By Sara Reese ’16 (Environmental biology major from Richmond, VA)
The annual, and much anticipated, Spring Party Weekend (SPW) is a mere week away. While the weekend is known for its live music, dancing and free food, there are a number of sustainability concerns that stem from the event-filled weekend. One of the main concerns: the great amount of waste.
The waste produced from SPW takes many forms – leftover food, plastic water bottles and beer cans. At a university with such an aggressive climate neutrality commitment, you would expect SPW to be organized to include a sustainable way to address the amount of waste produced at events. There seem to be obvious ways to address these problems with enough forethought and planning.
Leftover food from each event can be arranged to be picked up or dropped off at the Hamilton Food Cupboard. The Hamilton Food Cupboard serves upwards of 200 families in the Hamilton and Madison school districts each month, with leftover food from events playing a role in feeding so many families. Because each SPW event with food is known in advance of the weekend, as well as how much food and the anticipated number of attendees, arrangements for food pickup after each event can easily be made with the Hamilton Food Cupboard. Rather than simply throwing leftover food away and having it go to the landfill, food can be donated to give back to the larger community. The same can also apply to extra plastic water bottles.
Plastic water bottles are everywhere during SPW, including on the floors at events, on lawns and in trash cans rather than in recycling bins. Realistically, we cannot expect every student to find a recycling bin and put their empty water bottle in it, but there are a number of actions that can be taken to make recycling at SPW more prominent. First, recycling bins are often hard to come by. I can remember looking around the field house at one year’s main concert event and seeing trashcans and no recycling bins. With no recycling bins, students don’t even have the option to make sure their plastic water bottles don’t end up in the landfill. Buildings and Grounds and SPW volunteers could play a large role in the recycling of plastic water bottles at SPW events by ensuring that recycling bins are present and that plastic water bottles get picked up off of the ground and placed into recycling bins, rather than the trash can.
The topic of beer cans, and kegs as a sustainable alternative, has been a longstanding discussion at Colgate, and SPW is always a time that highlights how much beer can waste is produced. While aluminum beer cans are recyclable, getting the cans into recycling bins after large events presents a huge obstacle, just as with plastic water bottles. According to New Belgium Brewing Company’s sustainability page, kegs are reused an average of 29 times and can be completely recycled at the end of their life, as they are made of stainless steel. The life of a keg can be as long as 20 years. However, it is important to note that kegs would still require a cup to drink out of, likely Solo® cups. This means that students would still be accountable for getting recyclable solo cups into recycling bins, rather than trash cans. For me, there doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut answer as to whether beer cans or kegs would be more sustainable on a college campus. Because kegs are recyclable and the cases that beer cans come in are not, kegs may have a leg up, despite the prevalent use of Solo® cups to drink out of them.
In light of Colgate’s climate neutrality goal of 2019, SPW should be viewed as an opportunity to introduce sustainability into Colgate parties and major events. Planning in advance can help reduce the amount of food and plastic water bottle waste from SPW, and continuing the discussion of whether kegs should be banned is important to understanding how drinking and the SPW tradition at Colgate can be aligned with Colgate’s sustainability commitments.
(This article was originally published in the Maroon News)