Students challenge excessive waste

I was sitting next to a friend of mine in Stav Hall and I noticed that he only used a single napkin throughout the entire meal. At the end of the meal he put the used napkin in a green bag.

“I want to produce the least amount of waste today,” he said while carrying the green bag around with him.

When it comes to sustainability, St. Olaf is a pioneer. As of November 2016, the college is powered entirely by wind. Recently, the Environmental Coalition and Environmental House hosted a competition with Carleton College to see which school could produce the least waste through something called the No Waste Challenge. For this challenge, students who registered had to collect all the waste they produce throughout the week in reusable plastic bags, periodically attending weigh-ins to measure their trash. The average weight of trash produced per person for each college was calculated and the winning school received a repurposed trophy.

This challenge was aimed primarily at addressing the issue of excessive human waste and raising environmental awareness among students. Is this an issue the student body should be concerned with? In our industrialized world, we produce more waste than ever before. The napkins we use in the Caf, the cups we drink our coffee out of, the plastic cutlery we use during meals and the paper we print our assignments on all add up.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average person in the United States generates 4.3 pounds of waste per day. Where does all this trash go? Approximately 55 percent of the 220 million tons of waste generated each year in the United States ends up in one of over 3,500 landfills. More specifically, Americans use 2.5 million plastic bottles per hour. According to Forbes, the United States leads the world in waste production.

Is this challenge really an effective way to reduce human waste? Realistically it isn’t, since it is not a holistic measure of how much waste we produce – excluding things like water used during your morning shower or the gasoline used driving your car to work – but it does encourage students to become more responsible individuals when it comes to using non-renewable resources.

Students who took part in this challenge will most likely waste less during their daily routines. If all students took part in this challenge, the impact would be huge. Not only would it reduce waste production regionally, but it would make students more conscientious of their planet’s limited natural resources. It would shape how they think about their daily consumption. Maybe after completing the challenge we would all make a greater effort to bring our own cups to the Cage for coffee or Italian sodas, avoid plastic cutlery or reuse items that are still useful instead of sending them to the landfill.

In the grand scheme of things I would say that St. Olaf students are a group of open-minded people who are still unnecessarily wasteful, like the general population of the United States. We waste in our day-to-day lives without realizing the true impact of our consumption. The No Waste Challenge helped students take into account the trash they produce. Let’s not just strive to get the trophy, but to live up to the underlying message behind the challenge.

Ariel Mota Alves ’20 ( is from East Timor. His major is undecided.

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