Madison students and residents have been known to take pride
in their environmental awareness, concern and practices. But, if walking down
Mifflin Street on a Monday night in November is any indication, that pride may
be slightly misplaced.
Often on my way to the library, for example, I
simultaneously stub my toe on a Carlo Rossi bottle half-smashed on the
sidewalk, see multiple lights on in a house that a girl is leaving and locking and
pass a trash bin with aluminum cans piled on top of a bunch of paper plates with
Ian's crusts still stuck to them.
All of these signs point to young adults who are either
unforgivably ignorant or unabashedly apathetic about what they do to the
environment they live in, all the while campaigning against drilling into our
pristine Alaskan wilderness.
While I grew up in a metro area — the Twin Cities — with a
population more than six times that of Madison's, I had never encountered such
rampantly littered streets as when I first noticed the neighborhoods around
campus. Bottles, cans, newspapers, cups, cigarettes, tipped over trash cans,
puke, broken glass, fliers for free Domino's … the list goes on. I thought this
place was a haven of progressive thinking on environmental subjects such as
pollution and global warming.
Yet every day I walk into a world of misguided litter-ati
where no one seems to care that it looks like a typhoon ripped through the
Milwaukee's Best factory and dumped all of its contents onto the boulevard.
Madison residents produce 4.5 pounds of waste per person per
day according to The Capital Times. With 41,466 students enrolled at
UW-Madison, that's 186,597 pounds, or 93.3 tons, of waste created by students
alone. This massive amount of garbage gets thrown into landfills where it will
sit until well after we're gone (plastic bags can take up to 1,000 years to
With winter right around the corner, other energy issues,
besides just litter and trash, are bound to rear their nasty heads. By leaving
lights on and wasting heat and water, students harm not only Mother Nature, but
also their own pocketbooks.
Recently, on Channel3000.com, a list of "Eco-tips" was
posted with some eye-popping factoids on it. According to the site, a leaky
toilet can waste up to 5,000 gallons of water per year, and lowering your
thermostat two degrees before going to bed in the winter can reduce CO2
emissions by 400 pounds per year.
Or, for you true litter-ati out there, did you know that
three quarts of oil are needed to make a brand-new ink cartridge?
Now, unless you somehow never go to the bathroom, turn on
the heat or print out a paper at 3 o'clock the night before it's due — these
statistics should concern you.
Even though the United States has taken large steps in the
right direction in terms of pollution and recycling — there has been fourfold
increase in percentage of waste recycled from 1990 to 2000 for example — much
more must be done. UW-Madison students, as the supposed best and brightest in
regards to this issue, need to step up their efforts to help with environmental
It all starts with the individual. I hate to get all corny
on you like this, but a quote by an 18th-century German writer Johann Wolfgang
von Goethe sums it up perfectly, "Let everyone sweep in front of his own door,
and the whole world will be clean." If we start by taking responsibility for
our own actions, waste and pollution can be cut drastically.
Next time you have the impulse to throw an empty cup into
the bushes on a Saturday night, think again. Take the effort to walk an extra
45 feet to the nearest trash can — the city just gave out 67,000 new ones to
Madison residents — and drop it in. The next time your roommate leaves the
light on in his or her room, turn it off, and lower the temperature in your
house when you're gone or asleep.
And please, jiggle the handle on that toilet. It's a small
step that has a large consequence for the planet and for your own good.
Henry Weiner ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political