Sustain at Sewanee Explores Consumerist Culture Over Waste-Not Week

by Lam Ho

Last week, over a hundred students signed a pledge card and picked up a trash bag to “tote their trash” around campus to increase their awareness of the waste they produce on a daily basis. The Tote Your Trash campaign was only one component of an entire week designed by Sustain at Sewanee to provoke questions about consumerism and how it affects each person’s lifestyle.

The Green House and Sustainability Fellows put together four events over the week: Monday’s presentation regarding trash on St. Catherine’s; Tuesday’s showing of What Would Jesus Buy; Wednesday’s “A Consuming Conversation”; and finally, a Friday wrap-up event to celebrate students who participated in Tote Your Trash.

Although the whole week was bustling with activity for environmentalists and those interested in the movement, the people behind the week aim for a lasting impact. Undergraduate fellow Parker Haynes (C’17) says, “The events aremeant to inform everyday behavior… the goal is not about meetings or activities alone, but incorporating this drive toward sustainability in everyday life.”

Monday’s discussion on St. Catherine’s, an island on Georgia’s coast, was a display of how a pristine place could be mishandled by human hands. Led by Elise Landreaux (C’15) and Jeffrey Prado (C’15?), the event hosted by the Green House was an informative and personal account of two students’ observations, both scientific and personal, about human waste and how to live in a more mindful fashion.

Tuesday’s showing of What Would Jesus Buy? was hosted at the SUT. The documentary explores the life of Reverend Billy, a man who wanted to observe the commercialization of Christmas and how it has promoted consumerism in an extreme sense. “It’s a quirky documentary, but it asks people to think about what their purchases are, the materials they are using and not using, and how to eliminate what they are not using,” Haynes adds.

On Wednesday, the discussion about consumerism, nicknamed “A Consuming Conversation,” brought forth provocative theses from a handful of influential Sewanee professors: History professor Dr. Willis; Philosophy and Environmental Ethics professor Dr. Peters, religion professor and author Dr. Brown, Art History and Film Studies chair Dr. Thompson, and Economics/Environmental Economics professor Dr. Elrod. The interdisciplinary panel provided for cohesive ways to view consumerism and how it affects American culture today.

“The highlight of the week seemed to be Consuming Conversation. It was the most engaging event and was one way to have a direct conversation about consumerism with professors,” David Evans (C’16), co-director of the Green House, says.  The union between the Sustainability Fellows and Green House leaders created not only a provocation of mental awareness regarding sustainability, but promotes new lifestyle decisions. Evans adds,  “The Green House is an intentional community of people learning to live in an environmentally conscious manner… in that way, a sense of community and environmental consciousness go hand in hand.” Each person in the house was involved withtabling the weekend before Waste Not Week, showing their dedication to the cause.

To end the week, Sustain at Sewanee hosted a “Trash Bash” at the Harris Commons following a sourdough-making workshop by the University Farm. Raffle prizes were awarded and trash bags were weighed and displayed.

A handful of individuals were glad to discuss their accounts of the Tote Your Trash pledge. Philip Gould (C’16) says, “I learned that when I am conscious of my waste output, I strive to waste less and recycle more.”

Finished with a communal gathering and a wrap-up of the whole week of events, Waste Not Week successfully challenged how the community views consumerism in America and in their lives.