Maria M. Silva, Staff Writer
On the occasion of Earth Day, celebrated last Sunday, April 22, students, faculty and staff reflected on efforts at Utica College to reduce the human footprint on the planet.
This year’s international Earth Day is dedicated to end plastic pollution, a problem that affects millions of people around the world, as well as entire ecosystems and wildlife.
The risks of plastics are broadly known, so how is UC contributing to the cause?
For a small college, it is important to evaluate every effort related to the conservation and protection of the environment — from evaluating the amount of trash bins to understanding how public transportation and energy are used.
Daniel Bollana, the facilities manager at UC, controls how recycling bins, waste and other facilities are maintained.
The role of Facilities on campus is to “provide receptacles to try to limit the recyclable articles entering the waste stream,” according to Bollana. “In the maintenance area, we also separate out metals from other construction debris and sell it to a recycler.”
According to Bollana, other services that Facilities at UC provides are “recycling batteries, fluorescent light bulbs, hazardous products (oil, antifreeze, etc), paper, cardboard and electronics.” Extra materials that have been left over from jobs are stockpiled, and Facilities “tries to reuse them on smaller efforts.”
“Furniture will be reused and replaced with other furnishings that have outlived their useful life,” Bollana said.
In the cafeteria, “a private company installed a waste cooking oil collector, which now reduces our costs of having to dispose of it,” Bollana explained.
As for how the UC community makes use of the recycle bins, “people are participating, but we can always do better. Grassroots efforts always help in advancing a cause, and reducing waste is one I think the UC community can rally around,” Bollana said.
“Any effort to reduce items that can be recycled rather than entering the waste stream that ends up in our landfills is an effort worth taking,” Bollana said. Landfills have a limited capacity, and “opening new landfills is a very contentious issue,” he warned.
However, one of the areas in which the UC community could improve on is “with more informational material and emphasis on recycling. The addition of more recycling bins near waste receptacles would help people make the choice to recycle,” according to Bollana.
Professor Adam Schoonmaker has been in many colleges, and said that he would rank UC’s environmental efforts “close to the bottom.”
“It’s more than just recycling things, and still, I pull recyclable materials out of the trash can and trash out of the recycling bin everyday,” Schoonmaker said.
In the past, there have also been many efforts at UC to try to improve the college’s environmental culture, such as the building and maintenance of the UC greenhouse, according to Schoonmaker.
Nowadays, “I don’t think there’s sort of an ongoing sustained effort,” he complained.
Overall, Schoonmaker said that “there could be a lot more guidance to people about what can be recycled and what can’t, and the importance of doing it.”
Although recycling is important, it is just as important to do it properly, Schoonmaker warned. “When contaminated recyclables go to the recycling trash, it just increases the cost of having someone separate it,” according to the professor of geology.
The professor also talked about what is done with the food that we dispose of in the cafeteria.
“It could be composted, and turned into nutrients for growing vegetables,” said Schoonmaker, a geology professor at UC. “There’s a lot of room for improvement in the environmental awareness of UC, not only among students, but also among faculty and staff members.”
The professor also suggested some ways in which UC could improve its environmental efforts, such as coming up with ideas to reduce energy use and resources, and reducing the amount of paper for academic purposes.
“I like the idea that we’ve moved away from doing a lot of things with paper and using the Engage system, which is probably reducing paper use a lot,” he said.
As for bike access to UC for commuters, Schoonmaker complained about the lack of lanes to UC and the danger of riding a bike in the Utica area.
“Utica is definitely not bike-friendly, and public transportation is very limited,” he explained.
The limited amount of clear efforts at UC to raise environmental awareness also translates in the type of majors that are available on campus, such as the lack of a real environmental science major, which has taken a toll on the amount of students leaving UC and choosing other colleges.
“We’ve had geology majors transferring to other schools in which they offer a real environmental science major,” Schoonmaker said. “We don’t have one, but we’re working on bringing one, hopefully, in the next year or two.”
Schoonmaker also encouraged students to take over the situation at UC: “It would be nice if there was a student-led initiative rather than faculty telling students what to do.”
Peter Gaughan, a geoscience and government and politics student at UC believes that the college’s environmental culture is “horrifically absent.”
“There is no student organizing behind a cleaner campus, and no clear commitment by the administration to making a more sustainable campus, community and world,” Gaughan said. “We don’t compost, and we claim to recycle, but we don’t make it a tenant of our community. We should have massive recycling bins everywhere with small scattered trash cans.”
This year’s Earth Day goal is to end plastic pollution, warning that “there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade and kills animals and makes environments toxic,” Gaughan said.
That is one of the reasons why the student claims that “sustainability and environmental science should be part of core,” he said. “If you are going to live on the Earth, you should understand it and care for it. We should have a department on campus dedicated to a more sustainable campus and community,”
As for the student awareness on environmental culture, Gaughan found that it is “one of the most unifying things among students.
“We want a clean future, and it starts with a clean present and campus,” he said. “But, we need more resources and support from the college to make this happen.”