It’s that time of year again. Election day is upon us. Decisions need to be made, and it is up to us to make them. Some of us discuss and debate and offer our opinions. Some are quiet on the subject. In the end, what we say doesn’t matter all that much; it’s what we do that counts. When we quietly deposit our ballot in the ballot box, we are making our statement of choice. We make decisions every day, decisions with consequences just as concrete and long lasting as a voting decision. Choices are an expression of our beliefs.

“Wait a minute!” “This is supposed to be an article about sustainability,” you say. Well, I say sustainability is a choice. It is a choice we make every day. The great news is that  USM is currently at a 57 percent recycling rate meaning 57 percent of our waste is being recycled in some way. This is up from 34 percent just two short years ago. The increased recycling rate has brought about a dramatic savings in our waste disposal costs. More and more students, staff, and faculty are choosing to recycle and it makes a difference. Now the bad news… I was assisting with trash removal on the Portland and Gorham campuses recently. As I was tossing bag after bag of trash into the compactor I couldn’t believe how many paper cups and paper plates I was seeing thrown away. Visually I would guess that 60 to 75 percent of the trash bags were actually full of recyclable material.

I inquired with USM Dining and was told that while school is in session they sell about 2,650 cups of coffee a week. Many of the paper cups, with coffee in them, end up in the trash. USM’s trash goes to an incinerator at EcoMaine. It should come as no surprise to you that coffee, water and soda do not burn. Our preliminary analysis indicates that if we dumped our liquids down the drain instead of putting them in the trash, we could reduce our waste by 20 tons each year.

As I was dumping the trash, I was visualizing a person standing in front of one of our big blue waste stations around all three campuses. On the left is recycling and on the right is the trash. There is a choice to be made. Do you put the paper cup and plate in the ‘Recycling’ opening, casting your vote for sustainability? Or do you throw it all away? Please cast your vote for recycling today. Thank you!

Steve Sweeney is the Resource Recovery Supervisor in the Office of Sustainability who works to find ways to reduce USM’s waste and costs. He can be reached at [email protected]


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