December 6, 2012
Everyday there is this moment that is unavoidable in the dining halls: people are filling up paper cups with the most convenient snack or drink. It is a normal occurrence, and by many people’s standards, does not seem like a big deal. However, the use of paper cups adds up quickly at a college like Hamilton, a college that uses disposable items without questioning what such an individual action can mean for the larger population. This is what it means: as of last year, the College went through 21,000 paper cups a week. That amounts to about only one or two cups per person every day. But that also amounts to around 294,000 cups disposed in a semester and 588,000 disposed in a year at Hamilton.
If each person starts using less paper cups, invests in some to-go dishware, and maybe a few times goes without a snack if you forgot to bring your reusable items to the dining halls, we can begin to make some dents in these large numbers. Avid coffee-drinkers, please, invest in a thermos or mug. You know you are going to get at least one cup of coffee during the day, so just make sure that coffee is carried in an eco-conscious container. It will keep your coffee warmer longer anyways, meaning sustained coffee intake.
People who need snackage: plan ahead. Store your snacks in Tupperware and stop taking cups only to throw them away at the end of your study session. Everyone else, yes, there is sometimes a delay in getting cleaned plastic cups out to the beverage area. Guaranteed, though, they will be restocked in a minute or two. It does not take that much to wait, and waiting keeps one cup out of the landfill for each person that does. Also, because many students take the ceramic mugs provided by Bon Appetit in the dining halls and never return them, they are faced with the budget concerns of replacing the more expensive, reusable ceramic mugs with cheap paper cups.
Out of sight should not mean out of mind. Each cup used and disposed of means one more in the landfill. Imagine how big of a space would be needed to store 588,000 cups. Now imagine that multiplied by four, or the time you spend at Hamilton College; imagine a hill built out of 2,352,000 paper cups. All of those cups come down to one decision each of us makes when we enter the dining halls: to use or to abstain from using paper cups.
Each of us makes small decisions every day that, in the big picture, adds up to catastrophic results. So here are some things to consider when going about your day-to-day activities: turn off the water while you brush your teeth. It will still be there when you need to rinse. Turn off the water in the shower while you soap up, because with the water on, you wash off the soap anyways. Water is precious, and the frequency of droughts is increasing. Avoid printing your reading for class, and if you do print, print with multiple pages on each page and double-sided. Walk or bike to places close by; gas prices are soaring now, anyways. Carpool home or to the nearest airport; there are Ride-Boards posted in Beinecke. Turn the lights off when you leave a room. Grab a sweater and turn the heat down.
Your actions may seem inconsequential in the short-term, but think of them multiplied by everyone you know. Spread the word, get people on the conservation route and make a huge difference for your planet.