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Clarkson University students sort through trash

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POTSDAM — Clarkson University students got trashy on the front lawn of the student center Wednesday.

The school’s Sustainability Week brought students outside sorting through an entire day’s worth of garbage in front of the center Wednesday afternoon.

Susan E. Powers, an environmental engineering professor at Clarkson, said this is the second year they’ve held a garbage sorting session to spread awareness about how much trash they produce and how well they do getting solid waste in the right places.

“We are trying, especially in the eating facilities, to separate trash that goes to a landfill, recyclables and food waste,” she said. “It’s to learn how well we did.”

Ms. Powers is part of Clarkson’s Institute for a Sustainable Environment, for which she helps coordinate cross-campus sustainability initiatives. Michael S. Donovan, Albany, is a chemical engineering major in his junior year at Clarkson. He spent part of his Wednesday sorting through the trash.

“A lot of people just don’t know what is and isn’t recyclable, but now they’ll have a better chance because everyone walks by here and will see what’s happening,” he said.

Jonas Z. Ebert, a sophomore and biology and psychology major at Clarkson, said that although he doesn’t really enjoy sorting through other people’s trash, it needs to be done to show what can be recycled.

“It’s a mixture of apathy and ignorance,” he said. “A lot of the coffee cups are recyclable but people just throw them out because they don’t know what to do with it.”

Ms. Powers said that some students helping to sort the garbage are from her classes and are working on semester projects that have to do with solid waste.

“One group is looking at how many coffee cups we use on campus,” she said. “Our coffee cups are recyclable, but they’re going to look at how many were in the trash as opposed to recycled.”

Another group of Ms. Powers’s students were looking into how many paper disposable “to go” boxes were used.

Ms. Powers said one of the biggest finds last year was all the ice that was thrown away in Pepsi cups.

“We pay for our solid waste management by the pound,” she said. “If that goes in a plastic bag and the plastic bag doesn’t break before it goes in a dumpster, we are paying to send water to a landfill.”

Ms. Powers said that the college age is a great time for students to set up life-long habits that support a sustainable lifestyle.

“There are academic reasons to learn about this, but there’s also reasons to be a person who can live a little lighter on the planet,” she said. “It’s good for us to send our students out as citizens and voters who understand the issues with solid waste or energy.”

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