For the past three months, I have been studying abroad in Rome, Italy. Despite all of the food, architecture, language, culture and history that has shocked and delighted me, I was very pleasantly surprised upon first entering the dorm at my new university to see a sign posted that read, “Recycling is mandatory in Rome!”
My parents taught me to recycle alongside tying my shoes and riding a bicycle. I have written before about how I believe Washington and Lee needs to step up its recycling game by offering more recycling bins on campus, but I could truthfully never envision the university deciding to make recycling compulsory. While first-year housing has recycling bins on all floors, you have to request a receptacle in your specific apartment if you live in Woods Creek or the Village. I would presume most people aren’t even aware of the possibility that you can do this.
This situation makes it difficult for most people to remember to recycle, or to even consider the importance of doing so. According to Greener Ideal, Americans throw away enough trash in an average year to circle the Earth 24 times. While it can be difficult to picture that amount, it is not difficult to see the devastating effects that trash disposal has on our landscapes, oceans, air quality and so much more.
In Rome, failure to recycle and properly sort waste into specifically designated groups (i.e., glass, plastic, metal, paper, organic waste and non-recyclable materials) is punishable by fines of up to 600 euros, about $670, per offense. In Rome, there are multiple separate recycling bins in each individual university-owned apartment as well as larger receptacles in the common areas and on many Roman street corners.
In my Roman university’s academic buildings, there are clusters of recycling bins almost everywhere you look—in classrooms, each corner of common spaces, hallways and entryways. Recycling is cheerfully encouraged with signs posted above plastic recycling bins that feature colorful drawings and captions like “Think of the oceans!” Perhaps if I duplicate these notices on our campus people will be more inclined to remember how beneficial recycling is to our planet.
Rome’s recycling of organic waste initially took me by surprise. We are required even in our apartments to keep a separate bucket for leftover food, paper towels and napkins. While my family has composted food at home for years, using the resulting nutrient-rich fertilizer in our garden, I never considered doing so at Washington and Lee.
Fortunately, however, there are now organic-waste recycling bins present in campus dining venues and nearby outdoor dumpsters, and recycling your organic waste is both simple and straightforward .Just as Rome has made recycling mandatory in the effort to combat excessive production of waste, students at Washington and Lee can very easily make a personal commitment to recycling as much as possible. You need only to imagine paying a $670 fine for the failure to recycle in order to find the motivation to do your part to help the Earth.