by Maren Johnson
Grab, drink (fast or slow), and toss. The career of a beer can is the same in any Greek house: retirement to the floor. In the fall they drop like leaves, in the winter they drift like snow, and in the spring they appear like wildflowers. For many students at Sewanee, the presence of these cans is a constant reminder of where we fall short.
Sewanee students generally care about the environment, but considering the way we are living now, the outsider wouldn’t know it. To someone who visits on the weekend, the number of cans that get thrown away can be astounding. If people are worried about this, why isn’t it changing? The short answer is: there’s too much to do. As an institution, we tout ourselves as being ahead of the curve when it comes to environmental education, but we have yet to institutionalize our principles into practice. We are making headway though. According to Rachel Petropoulos of the Office of Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability, “over the years recycling has gone from a project separate from the waste stream to now becoming just another part of materials management.” Much of the time getting our recyclables to where they can be dealt with is the hardest part. This is why the students of Dr. Brown’s class have spent a semester looking at how students can push Sewanee into practicing what we preach.
In one group, the students are members of several Greek organizations that see generations of beer cans being tossed out and want to do something about it. But the first step is letting people know that not only do their actions matter but that they are also accomplishing something. Greater awareness of the life of recycling in Sewanee is the path that Taylor McCutcheon (C’17), James Snover (C’15), Joe Randazzo (C’17), David Prehn (C’16), and Maren Johnson (C’17) are pursuing to change the Sewanee lifestyle. According to Joe and Taylor, every weekend the floor of their house is littered with cans that get picked up, eventually, and thrown away. Walking outside many of the houses are the weathered bodies of old cans that have gone unclaimed, an ugly reminder of how badly we need to incorporate awareness of waste life cycles into our lives.
Next, a system will need to be established to make sure that recycling will happen across campus, especially in fraternities. Many fraternities are now getting big trash cans to put cans in and the sororities can get bins that facilitate sorting. According to Alex Friedl (C’15), who single-handedly takes care of the recycling in her sorority, “the majority of the frustration is about sorting recyclables.” Snover worries that bins will have trash tossed in them and that party-goers will see them as a nice place to vomit. And of course even if those aren’t problems, how can we ensure cans land there and not in other trash cans or places they shouldn’t be. It’s all about the culture of Sewanee. We have to be willing to go that tiny extra step. Snover is hopeful that these new cans will work, and it is nice to see that Greek organizations are dedicated enough to recognize their flaws. But no matter what happens, the goal of this project is to make sure that whatever changes happen will continue throughout generations of Sewanee students. One of the best parts about Sewanee is the constant recognition of our room for improvement. It is our job to make sure that Sewanee remains the same in all the ways we love and that the people who get to enjoy time here are helping to maintain its legacy.