By: Adrianna Michell

While living on residence for the first time, I had come to think of on-campus housing as a rite of passage for university students. I thought of communal bathrooms, the inevitable roommate conflicts and the disappointing dining hall foods.

I anticipated these to be an unavoidable part of residence living. However, despite my generally low expectations of the conditions of campus living, I was shocked by the lack of foresight in McMaster’s residences and the daily functions that come with housing thousands of students.

Given the number of students living in residence, McMaster cannot afford to ignore the reckless and unsustainable waste practices on campus.

The potential impact of creating a sustainable waste reduction process is great, as McMaster is known to house almost 3,600 students in 12 buildings.

In lacking a responsible and effective waste reduction policy, the university has failed students. McMaster has left gaps in residence students’ education. Adequate waste removal and sorting services are not available to students; Mac’s environmental education policies point the finger at students.

The culture of disposability that pervades on-campus housing is apparent in both the personal choices of residents and the administration’s lack of policy. Dining halls are littered with students eating in disposable containers. Reusable cutlery is hard to come by, and correct waste receptacles are difficult to distinguish. There is little incentive for students to implement waste reduction practices, as hospitality services does not seem to be prepared for such regulations.

Given the number of students living in residence, McMaster cannot afford to ignore the reckless and unsustainable waste practices on campus.

According to the most recent Waste Reduction Work Plan created in 2015, the university hoped to expand compost and increase sustainable packaging.

The waste audit leaves something to be desired as most recyclable products have no waste reduction plan in place, the only goal being to “continue to recycle.” One goal was to include recycling bins in washrooms, which, as any student can attest to, has not happened in residences.

In the 2016 Sustainability Annual Report, one objective is to increase the amount of waste diverted from landfills. However, reducing this number is only a quick fix for a larger, systemic problem. A near 20 per cent increase in waste diversion sounds good, but it fails to account for the amount of waste produced that could have been avoided in the first place.

McMaster’s sustainability policies broadly ignore the root causes of issues and put the onus on students and individuals, rather than taking accountability for institutional actions.

“Awareness raising” policies have been implemented across campus, from educational materials to ever-changing signage on waste receptacles; using passive tactics that do not have any measurable goals makes the university look better without doing much. No matter how many people look at a poster or recycle their plastic, the real problem is being ignored.

In residence, the problem of waste production is daunting. There are no compost bins in residence. While student groups have had success in getting green bins in the student centre, no such initiatives have taken place in residence, nor should there be. It should be the responsibility of the University to establish composting facilities in residences, not individual students.

Dining halls do participate in a program where reusable Eco-Takeout containers are provided. Students pay a one-time fee of $5 to get into the program, and then can use the green containers for their food. This program does not seem to be widely used, as a quick walk through Centro will show that most students do not participate in the program, evidenced by their lack of green plastic containers.

The Eco-Takeout box also repeats the mistakes of other initiatives, placing all of the responsibility on the student with little incentive or reward. The containers are small and tend to be stained from time spent sitting in student’s rooms.

Residences have the potential to be a laboratory for innovative sustainability practices at McMaster, but are instead areas of immense waste production.

Looking toward solutions, McGill University seems to succeed where Mac has not, as they have successfully implemented composting in its residences, and has tried to “build a culture of composting” at the university.

Raising awareness about composting will not make sustainable, impactful change. The university needs to create policies that take responsibility for waste, and residences are the perfect place to start.

The original image used online for this article was uploaded without the subject’s consent, and has been taken down.

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