As conversations surrounding global warming and the environment gain more and more national attention, a student organization on campus has turned its focus to local apartment buildings and their efforts to encourage sustainability.
REthink Wisconsin promotes sustainability in all areas of campus and in the Madison community, according to its website. Recently, the organization members discovered that numerous State Street apartment complexes do not recycle or compost.
“Our big thing this semester is that we’re trying to get apartment buildings to offer recycling to their tenants, because they don’t right now in a lot of places. Or if they do, there is just a trash chute on every floor and you have to physically carry recycling down, which no one does,” said UW-Madison junior and REthink co-chair Abby Lois. “We’re all lazy. That’s the thing with environmental things that I’ve learned a lot about. You have to make them easy for people to do, and not something they have to go out of their way. Being sustainable is easy, but you have to make it accessible.”
REthink conducted trash audits this fall to show State Street building owners how many of them are incorrectly disposing their trash. Group members sorted through dumpsters, separating actual garbage from recyclables and compostables. Lois said they especially want to investigate the buildings that have a chute on each floor and just a small, obscure recycling bin on the bottom floor.
At one State Street apartment building, REthink collected two bags of trash and found that 63 percent of it was recyclable and 9 percent was compostable.
However, Lois said REthink will continue to perform audits throughout the semester to increase its sample size and collect more evidence.
Another part of the group’s plan involves sending letters to building owners, either prompting them to start a recycling program or improve existing programs. They also hope to talk personally with some tenants to see if they are interested in becoming more involved by asking their landlords for improved practices.
Lois added that the best way to raise awareness of this issue is to get more people to write letters, especially tenants, who are primarily university students. She said REthink wants to emphasize that sustainability is something everyone can do, even though many people, especially college students, may feel as though they don’t have time or it’s not important.
“I hope this inspires more people to start thinking about this as an issue. I think a lot of people don’t think about how wasteful our lives are,” Lois said.
UW-Madison senior and State Street resident Emma Doenier said although building owners and landlords could do more to incite sustainability, it might not be their job.
“We do have recycling, but it’s a dumpster in the back of the building. They didn’t provide us with any receptacles to encourage recycling. They made it available, but didn’t necessarily advertise it really well,” Doenier said. “I don’t think it’s their responsibility to provide us with ease of recycling, though. It’s the tenant’s duty to go above and beyond and have a different place to put their recycling.”
REthink will work on eight different projects throughout the semester, including continued trash audits. Lois said the organization's goal is, and always will be, to make Madison a sustainable, environmentally friendly city, no matter how long it takes.
“There’s tons of great things here that have happened because of students, it just takes time and everyone together. It’s hard because everyone has things to do. But it’s doable, and we just have to have hope,” Lois said.