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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Reward for Recycling

Published: September 20, 2013
Section: Opinions

When students moved into their dorms a few weeks ago, they noticed signs and flyers reminding them to recycle their trash. They saw the numerous recycling bins present, and there were signs everywhere showing how environmentally sound or “green” Brandeis is. As a junior, this has been the culture for all two years and change that I have been here. Upon entering Usdan Student Center, one can see a deposit bin for Green Bean Recycle, a local company designed to give college students money for recycling, that is similar to the return bottle deposits for five or more cents in Massachusetts as well as in other states. I have always thought it to be an amusing idea.

I started to recycle bottles and cans there. Earlier this month, the company had a contest at local colleges, including Tufts, Bentley, Brandeis and Northeastern Universities, to see which school’s students could recycle the most. These schools have more students than we do, and I did not have many bottles or cans to recycle. My hopes of winning the contest were minimal, but I decided just to recycle so I could send the money to either PayPal or charity. Imagine my surprise when I won the contest! I was in the Top Ten Recyclers amongt all their locations. How many bottles did I recycle to win? 100? 564? 3,000? No. For a student at a school that claims to be environmentally driven, I won $60 in prizes by recycling three water bottles.

Although one might consider this a lucky scenario, this shows the innate problem of any activism, including the environmental movement, on this campus. Each movement needs people to act consciously 100 percent of the time. One member cannot take a day off. After this contest ended two weeks ago, I started to look at the campus in a different light. There is litter everywhere despite the large number of trash cans. Sodexo uses only disposable trays and plates in Usdan and of which go into landfills. Lights remain on in the library, Sherman Dining Hall and academic halls when no one is there. The simple actions we were taught to do in elementary school are being ignored. Yet we are constantly told that our earth is dying and that doing these things are our only salvation. We are told that divestment is a necessity and that we need to cut our fossil fuel consumption. We, however, are too blind to see that we stand on an unnoticed pile of litter, full of paper flyers telling us to divest.

I am not an environmentalist. I do not know enough about global warming. I do not know how paper is recycled. I know doing the best one can is the limit of what one can do. Living one lifestyle and preaching another, however, is not the best one can do. Last year, we had an amendment proposed to divest the university from fossil fuels. Proponents argued that we need to be an example for other universities. I voted against divesting from fossil fuels. There is still desire to divest on this campus, but on the same campus and in the same area, a person can win a recycling contest by barely participating. My winning goes against the purpose of meaningful activism. One cannot and must not be activists by inactivity. Being an activist means that, to quote Mahatma Gandhi, “we need not wait to see what others do.” It means to live for the changes you desire, accepting the risks and marching onward. If we really call ourselves a campus dedicated to activism, we need to set higher standards for ourselves individually. By changing the higher standards individually, one can rewrite the standards. It takes a child to change a village. We must act for ourselves first, and only by doing that can we better society.

And it has happened. Green Bean’s goal to reward students for recycling is working. Last time I went to donate, the machine was full. By personalizing and rewarding ourselves for our work, more people will be motivated to act. This could prompt a better society and a better future. The true motivation for action is not for some generation in the future or some person in the middle of nowhere. The true motivator is our own selfish nature. Despite what society declares, self-interested people are needed. Their passion and greed will drive them to get things done. If selfishness helps you save the world, so be it. The results are the same regardless of intention, perhaps even better.