Students’ small steps stem climate damage

The communal kitchen in my college flat has three rubbish bins, of which two are of a smaller size and one larger. Above the two smaller bins signs have been put up to clear out what is supposed to go in the bin and what isn’t. One sign for each bin.

Both signs have the prominent heading “Recycling”. On the left sign it continues: “Paper and Cardboard” and a bit further down it says “Please flatten all boxes and cartons”. The simple, but well functioning, print out also has pictures of cardboard boxes and newspapers to emphasize the message and clarify to university students what to chuck in what particular bin. On recycling sign number two is written “plastic bottles, tin cans, drink bottles, wine bottles, beer bottles, plastic containers”.

In all the bins, however, people have chucked cardboard boxes, beer bottles, egg shells, plastic bags, spounges, left over food, tea bags, youghurt containers and newspapers. Stuff that usually goes in bins. Unfortunately there are all sorts of rubbish in all three bins. For some reason the very neat and polite message on the signs doesn’t seem to have got through to most students. Even though they have pictures.

The cleaner comes every morning and empties the bins so that students don’t even need to bother carrying their rubbish down the stairs where the dustmen will pick it up.

On the 28th of July Adam Morton wrote in the Age about how “Small steps can reduce climate damage”. His discussion is primarly about climate change and what sacrifices it takes to actually prevent it from happening. Or, in fact, stop what is already happening. In the second paragraph Adam Morton points out that polls have shown that people “want action to stem global warming and are prepared to make sacrifices to get it”.

Further, he states the fact that “there is plenty that can be done on a local level that is being ignored”.

I agree. There is definitely plenty that can be done on a local level. But that people should be prepared to make sacrifices to save the planet, I sincerely doubt. Quite a few are, but not enough.

Seeing young, intelligent people that are simply too lazy to be bothered frankly, pisses me off. Recycling is a way of saving energy and in the long run that is a way of prevent global warming. It’s one of the small steps that Adam Morton writes about in his article. My floor mates are not even prepared to make such a minor sacrifice.

Where I come from the system looks a little different. People put what is to be recycled in one bin and what isn’t in another. When the kitchen bins are full you’ll have to take your trash to the closest recycling station (which hopefully is in walking distance) and put cardboard in the cardboard bin, newspapers in the newspaper bin, metal in the metal bin…

Nobody will make the effort here either. But my point is that for me and my floor mates it’s just so easy. And still, the majority don’t make the effort it takes.

I don’t know if it’s true that human being are lazy by nature, but my experiences tell me that that’s a fact. That people “want action to stem global warming and are prepared to make sacrifices to get it” is probably true, but it won’t happen as long as we’re too lazy to take the “small steps [that] can reduce climate damage”.

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6 Responses to “Students’ small steps stem climate damage”


  1. 1 Henry Galt August 11, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    As it is getting cold and is soon to get colder I do not expect habits to change – it is not until you have your own children that you “care” about the world and it is not until you leave your teenage years behind that the majority see a reaction to their actions – cause and effect.

  2. 2 HELENA BJORK August 12, 2008 at 1:25 am

    Perfaps that’s the case with some people – that they don’t “care” about the world until they have their own children. And if they begin doing it by that time, at least it’s better than not doing it at all.

    Although I’m not so sure whether I can agree with you that university students can be excused because they’re teenagers. Most of them aren’t. Someone who is in their early twenties and have brains enough to undertake a university degree I believe should be capable of realising that their actions effect the world.

    Or actually, when I reconsider it, living at college and studying at uni is for some people mostly about getting drunk. Guess that lot don’t consider or analyze anything very carefully.

  3. 3 prucook August 13, 2008 at 6:40 am

    I shouldn’t take having children to have an environmental conscience… I don’t want children, but I care. I applaud all of Sweden’s efforts in what they’re doing environmentally. Australians just seem to have a huge attitude problem. The majority of us are too cozy in our little self absorbed consumer driven world and are more than happy to buy ‘green’ beer and put in a more efficient shower head, but when it comes to actually making sacrifices? Leave it to someone else. I hope that Henry is instilling his new found awareness in his children, otherwise this will just be a perpetual cycle

  4. 4 Brett August 13, 2008 at 8:46 am

    Perhaps it won’t be until several of Melbourne’s bay side suburbs are under water that people will start to realise what they’re doing to the environment.

    As you pointed out, there is so much more that can be done at a local level to reduce climate change. The problem is changing selfish attitudes that have no consideration for the future consequences of their actions.

    So can we educate these people further? Probably not. I suppose all we can do is try and lead by example. Whether it be recycling, driving less or even reusing the same plastic coffee cup, there are little sacrifices that we can all make to ensure we are not contributing further to global warming.

  5. 5 amishthrasher August 13, 2008 at 9:10 am

    I think that a large part of the answer (and – shameless plug time – it’s something I’ve raised in my blog) stems from the fact that people are products of the culture and society that they were raised in. If people were raised in (or live in) a culture, society, economic and political system that encourages people to act in an environmentally sound manner, then they will. If not, then they won’t.

    You give the example of people not caring about recycling. Why does our culture encourage this?

    South Australia’s had a lot of success in getting people to recycle by simply charging a 5c plastic bottle deposit on every plastic bottle sold in the state. If people do the right thing and return the bottle, they are rewarded by getting their deposit back. If they throw the bottle in the bin or on the ground, they lose the deposit. And if others – community groups, scouts and guides – have to clean up after them, they get rewarded for doing it by collecting their deposit.

    In the rest of Australia, how are people rewarded for recycling a plastic bottle? How do they compensate the people who clean up after others? How do we fine people who do the wrong thing? In many cases, the answer is simply “we don’t.”

    Going deeper, why is there so much waste that needs recycling (or throwing out) in the first place? I think the answer is partly because we have a culture that encourages us – every day – to waste natural resources, and because we don’t pay the true (environmental) cost for what we use.

    Slightly different topic, as a fellow LaTrobe Journalism student, I’ve added a link to your blog. Any chance of adding a link back?

  6. 6 Caroline September 10, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    I agreed with you Helena, totally! Recycling the rubbish you create is the very least any human being can do for this planet and anyone who can’t be bothered doing it, teenagers, university students, parents, whoever, should just be ashamed of themselves!

    Having lived in the US, in England as well as, currently, in Australia and seeing how waste is being treated in these countries makes me want to cry! Americans, English people (I refuse to call them Poms, that’s just too silly?!…who were the prisoners?!…) and Aussies all produce a massive amount of garbage every day. And when that massive amount of garbage isn’t recycled it has a devastating effect on our planet. Not saying that people in all other countries are great, definitely not, but where Helena and I are from, Sweden, I must say people are generally pretty good. We, (yes, including party animals like uni students!) are aware of the importance of recycling our own rubbish. We actually, just like Helena described, do walk with our rubbish to the nearest recycling station to put newspapers in the newspaper container, coloured glass in the coloured glass container, plastic in the plastic container and so on. It seriously is the least we can do for our planet on a daily basis!! Look at what’s happening to it…temperatures going nuts, ice melting etc etc…it really isn’t doing too well and it’s all our fault so if we want to keep it we better look after it!

    Another thing I just have to add here is the thing with the plastic bags…it just drives me nuts how they over use them in the supermarkets here! I can’t stand when they pack your bags for you (which is very kind, but not environmentally friendly). They put about two items in each bag. That could be because the quality of the bags is so poor they’ll break if you put more than a loaf of bread and a small bag of tomatoes in them. In Sweden you have to pay for your plastic bag if you don’t bring your own bag to the shop. That’s so clever since it makes people bring their own bags (and the ones you buy if you have to are strong and ‘proper’ bags that can be used over and over again). The supermarkets here do sell the environmentally friendly strong carry bags though. They are great and even makes carrying your groceries easier. It’s just a shame that not many people are using them… If you haven’t already bought one or two and aren’t using them…what are you waiting for?! Again, it’s such a small thing, but if everybody did it, it would make such a huge difference.

    We need to take care of our planet, it’s EVERYBODY’S responsibility! We’ve only got one, and it’s not doing very well…


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