Ernest Owens | Recycling our wasteful addiction
The Ernest Opinion | We need to reevaluate our environmental priorities
January 20, 2012, 12:24 am·
The Ernest Opinion
I had diarrhea. I was dehydrated. My body was covered with mosquito bites, and I wore the same sweaty shirt for three days. I was standing on top of a mountain in Agallpampa, Peru. Although I was given the fancy title of “director of marketing” for the international nonprofit organization Global Development Collaborative, there was nothing grand about my physical state.
On a humanitarian internship, I was sent abroad to further economic and health-related goals in Peru. I was there for 10 days, and it was the most eye-opening time of my life. Hundreds of children in the village of Nuevo Jerusalem were malnourished, with mouths full of cavities. There were mothers starving themselves to provide for their families. Homes were built of adobe bricks with dirt floors. A community of roughly 100 people shared half a swimming pool’s worth of fresh water.
As harsh as the villagers’ conditions were, there was one thing they did not do. They never complained.
Coming back to Penn, I still reflect on life in Nuevo Jerusalem. Sitting in Houston Hall for lunch, I hear fragments of petty grievances that can be heard across the room. The stressed pre-med student complains about her professor not allowing her to submit paper copies instead of Blackboard submissions. The angry basketball player argues on his iPhone with his girlfriend for not ordering the right burger downstairs and, as a result, throws it completely out. I confess — I was just like these individuals a few weeks ago. But I can now no longer condone the obsession with unnecessary waste.
We Penn students pride ourselves on how green we think we are, but — in actuality — our efforts are not as effective as we all assume. According to the Facilities & Real Estate Services, our campus only recycles about 24 percent of its total waste stream. And while we provide plenty of recycling outlets on campus, judging by the discarded trash still being put in them, they do not seem to be taken seriously.
In some sense, it is our elitism that has created this wasteful culture. We cheer and admire ourselves on throwing hundreds of pounds of bread annually at Franklin Field and then justify the activity by arguing that we later decompose it. I am by no means an expert in environmental activism, but as an individual who has seen poverty and hunger both indirectly and personally, I urge all of us to individually re-evaluate our waste contribution.
I do not plan to become the most devout green man on campus, but I have made some moderate changes. Even small things like printing double-sided can do a lot to help. Cut back on buying new textbooks and items online unless mandatory. It does not seem logical anymore to waste so much energy and transportation for one single book that will only be read for one semester. And do not leave a single light on in your room when you are not present. Your room may look like a horror scene, but why leave on your light when there is no reason?
Why should you do this? Why should you care? Because 25 percent of our world’s population does not have electricity and 2.6 billion people lack basic sanitation. We may not be able to solve the entire problem, but that does not mean we have to contribute to it. So do the rest of the world a favor: recycle this newspaper after you finish reading it and do not leave your laptop charging when not necessary.
Penn is the campus founded by the great man who discovered electricity, so we have an even higher obligation to save it.
Ernest Owens, an Undergraduate Assembly representative, is a College sophomore from Chicago. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The Ernest Opinion appears every Friday.