The Red Cups of Isla Vista
Are Students Environmentalists or Trashy Citizens?
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Take a walk down the streets of I.V. any day of the week, ideally on a Saturday or Sunday, and you’ll find the ubiquitous red cups.
You can’t miss them: big, bright, shiny cups littering the street, strewn across front yards, and even lying around in the wetlands. Look a little closer and you can find other types of trash all over the place as well.
Every time I see this it gets me thinking about how the students are supposed to represent our future. If so, the future isn’t looking so good. The students don’t seem to be all that environmentally aware.
Just in case you’re thinking this is going to be a student-bashing column, I’ll tell you up front, I don’t think all students are bad, just the ones who think I.V. is their trash can. There are lots of students out there doing the right thing. I set out to look for some of them so that I wouldn’t feel so negative.
I started by talking with Melissa Cohen, the Isla Vista Food Co-op manager. She had talked me down when I went into a trash rant a while ago. She agreed that there was a trash problem, and that something should be done. Cohen said, “People think they can trash I.V. because there are no repercussions.” She suggested that the county hire some form of officer to come into I.V. and write tickets “for students who are being unreasonably disgusting.”
She did not, however, think that this meant that there weren’t some students trying to help the environment. “The people doing good are overshadowed,” she explained. She named the UCSB Environmental Affairs Board, and the Adopt a Block program, a group that picks up trash after Halloween, as examples of students making a difference.
While I wasn’t able to find a new student program specifically targeting litter, I did talk to some students who are trying to increase the level of campus environmental awareness. Hopefully, with this type of awareness will come a realization that tossing plastic cups all over the place is environmentally unfriendly.
One of the good ideas I looked into was trayless dining in a residence hall dining facility. The concept, suggested by students on the Environmental Affairs Board, is being tried out in the De la Guerra Dining Commons. This means that students fill a plate or bowl with food and, without a tray to heap their plates on, they are not tempted to take more than they are going to eat. Results are encouraging.
Mark Rousseau, energy and environmental manager for UCSB Housing & Residential Services, said, “Overall, the waste pre- and post-consumer is lower.” He said that this was for a number of reasons. First of all, students aren’t taking as much, and second of all, he said, waste is being taken to a composting facility instead of sent to a landfill.
Rousseau said that in 2008 about 80 percent of the waste coming from De la Guerra was going to a landfill and 20 percent was diverted for recycling; now about 90 percent is diverted and only 10 percent goes to the landfill.
Some of the composting material is brought back to UCSB for use in the gardening beds. He said there were other environmental benefits as well. Going trayless means that students take fewer dishes, which means less water and energy is needed. Yes, the dorm dining rooms use ceramic dishware rather than disposable.
Megan Carney, a graduate anthropology student, is working on a project funded through a grant from The Green Food Initiative Fund Real Food Challenge. She is working on educating students about where their food comes from, and how food production affects the environment. Carney said she is in the process of calculating how much of UCSB’s food is “ecologically sound, fair, local, and humane,” and how much is not. Carney explained that this information will show them where they are now.
Carney is also working to get students involved in Meatless Monday, an international campaign. She and others plan to distribute information in residence hall dining areas to encourage them to go meatless, and egg- and lactose-free for a day. She said that she and other students will not only encourage students to go meatless, but will educate them about the effects agriculture and meat production have on the environment.
One of the students working with Carney to make Meatless Monday a UCSB reality is undergraduate Corie Radka. In fact, Radka said that she and fellow student Andrew Dunn, who are both on the Environmental Affairs Board, suggested the idea. The kickoff for Meatless Monday will be held November 23: There will be signs up, information tables, and a special showing of the film Fresh. When asked why Meatless Monday, instead of another day, she said it was a “good way to start off the week,” perhaps setting the tone for a person’s eating habits the rest of the week.
Radka will be contacting I.V. restaurants to ask them to support the Meatless Monday campaign by offering discounts for meatless entrees. It is the right time for this kind of action, she said. “This campaign is really important because I feel like a lot more people are environmentally conscious as compared to before.” However, people are focusing on eating local and organic, she said, when “actually, eating more of a plant-based diet does more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and biodiversity loss than eating both local and organic. It just blows those out of the water.”
In talking to students about these environmental issues, I found that I was the one getting an education. It made me realize that there are quite a few who are trying to make the future a little better. I think I might even try Meatless Mondays myself.
Even though there is trash on the streets of I.V., there is still hope. As Radka said “There are people that care a lot, and people that don’t care at all.” But maybe, just maybe, the people who don’t care will change their minds.