College Students in the U.S. Convenience Vs. Sustainability

Published: 2021-08-10 20:05:07
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It is well known and well documented that proper recycling has a positive impact on the environment by reducing waste and that every day actions can be adapted to reduce one’s negative impact on the environment. Approximately seventy percent of all solid waste, or one hundred and eighty million tons annually, is diverted to landfills, and the municipal solid waste stream is estimated to be growing approximately one point five percent per year, almost twice the rate of population growth. (Domina & Koch, 2002) “”[Professionals] should motivate people toward both appropriate personal behaviors and collective decisions that will protect from the effects of climate change.”” (Frumkin & McMichael, 2008) For this synthesis, I am looking to find out if students are more likely to choose convenience over sustainability. There are common practices in which college students participate in that could easily be modified to produce a more environmentally friendly outcome. While different demographics may influence the decisions made by college students, the overall determining factor for their actions will be a matter of convenience.
Recent research correlates the likelihood for students in college to adopt more sustainable practices with the availability of convenient recycling options. Erin Largo-Wight of the PhD Department of Public Health University of North Florida conducted an experiment to prove this. Wight observed two different areas on campus, one with an outside only recycling option in which the students would be required to leave the buildings they are in to dispose of their recyclables, while the other set of buildings on campus was provided in-house recycling options, eliminating the need to leave the building in order to recycle. Over eight weeks, Wight observed that the total can and bottle recycling volume increased sixty-five to two-hundred-and-fifty percent in the buildings with in-house recycling options as opposed to the buildings without outdoor only recycling options. (Largo-Wight, Johnston, & Wight, 2013) This increase validates the idea that convenience is a strong factor in whether or not somebody will participate in more sustainable practices or not.
An additional study further demonstrates how convenience increases the likelihood of one to make more environmentally conscious decisions. Two groups of people were used, where one group was only provided a paper with information about how they could make more sustainable decisions. As for the other group, new appliances were installed and more streamlined recycling options were made available to them. After both short and long periods of time, the households with environmentally friendly appliances and more streamlined recycle options showed a large increase recycling habits compared to those with the informational pamphlet who showed little to no increase in recycling. (Bernstad, 2014)
In addition to convenience, research has shown that various demographics influence how likely a person is to recycle or modify their daily practices to reduce their environmental impact. Older research papers (from the seventies) show that white, younger, better educated, middle or upper-class residents, and politically liberal are the most likely to recycle. (Dunlap, 1975) However, more recent studies have shown that the demographic most inclined to recycle are older, have higher incomes, and are homeowners. (Granzin & Olsen, 1991) This information either implies that the demographic most inclined to recycle has changed over time, or that the difference in time between these conducted studies reflects the younger population aging yet continuing their recycling habits and are now the older demographic. Either way, race and income remained a constant in their likelihood to recycle and make more environmentally friendly decisions. With this information, it seems most likely that race and financial background would be the factors that have the strongest influence on who is most likely to recycle on campus. Aside from these factors, there do not seem to be any other strong correlation between different demographic factors and the likelihood of a person to recycle.
While recycling is the first step to a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, there are other choices one could make to even further reduce their negative environmental impact. A growing issue of this decade is the waste produced from the disposable coffee pods called k-cups. K-cups are plastic and intended to only be used one time before being disposed of. As of 2013 Green Mountain (the largest U.S. producer of disposable coffee pods) produced eight point three billion coffee pods, which is enough to wrap around the equator ten and a half times. (Oatman, 2014) While recent studies suggest that older white people are more likely to recycle today, statistics also show that largest consumer of k-cups are those who are white and over the age of sixty-five. This data appears to have the potential to be contradictory, however it is possible that those who recycle the most are also those who purchase the least environmentally friendly products (such as k-cups).
The inquiry into whether or not students are likely to choose convenience over sustainability has shown that their race and their economic background are the strongest factors relating them to their decisions and therefore should be included in the experiment. Another demographic I would like to explore is the political background of the student and how it correlates to their inclination to participate in sustainable practices. An older study showed that those who associated with the democratic party were more likely to recycle than those who did not. Availability of recycling options also seems to be a big contributor to the likelihood of making more sustainable decisions. The more options available and the more convenient those options are (inside as opposed to outside, free as opposed to not, etc), then the more students are likely to recycle.

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