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By Roisin Cowan-Kuist Getting good grades, catching up on sleep, maintaining a balanced social life, keeping a regular exercise routine — all of these things and more can be a source of pressure for busy college students. But what about tracking the amount of waste you produce? “Having one more thing you have to be better at is kind of exhausting to hear all the time,” Gwen Larned, president of Western’s Students for Zero Waste club, said at a club meeting last Friday. As Students for Zero Waste advocates, being conscious of the amount of waste you produce can create a positive ripple effect that can impact personal, community and global spheres. The average person will produce their body weight in waste each month, according to an article published by the International Weekly Journal of Science. Another report by National Geographic found that 55 percent of waste generated by humans ends up in landfills.

Students discuss solutions to campus waste issues at a Students for Zero Waste club meeting on Friday, February 16. // Photo by Roisin Cowan-Kuist
Every decision you make as a consumer, it is tied intimately to the people around you and to people all around the world, in positive and negative ways,” Larned said. The club formed during fall quarter 2017, but became an officially recognized Associated Students club in January of this year. Since then, it has continued to gain new members’ interested in tackling Western’s waste issue, as well as those wanting to learn how to adopt and maintain a waste-free lifestyle. Students for Zero Waste is also a national student-led coalition that aims to combat throw-away culture. According to their website, the organization strives to educate the public on how landfill waste is tied to environmental degradation, social justice violations and economic inequality. At the club’s meeting Friday, Feb. 16, members discussed ways to continue pushing the envelope on campus sustainability. Members debated the pros and cons of an initiative to ban disposable cups across
A Students for Zero Waste club member's backpack sports the movement's logo. // Photo by Roisin Cowan-Kuist
Western’s campus, citing issues of accessibility as a main cause for hesitation. Some members suggested implementing an additional tax for those students who choose to purchase their drinks with a disposable cup as opposed to a reusable mug. Other members suggested changing the design of menu boards throughout campus’ coffee shops to better reflect the discount already given to those customers that choose to use a reusable cup. It’s like a good behavior discount instead of a bad behavior tax,” said club member Kristen Tarr. After an initiative led by the Students for Sustainable Water club, Western implemented a plastic bottle ban in 2014 that prohibited the sale of plastic water bottles on campus. In a statement released in 2014, Students for Sustainable Water explained that the ban was not just a strategy to reduce plastic, but was also a means of highlighting the importance of combating water privatization and to support Bellingham’s local water source, Lake Whatcom. This link to issues of environmental and social justice violations by corporate interests is the pinnacle of the zero-waste movement, Larned explained. “In general, the environmental movement is seen as a white, elitist movement,” Larned said. But sustainability, while often viewed as a movement that excludes people of color, is often best addressed by those very same communities, explained Larned.
Club President Gwen Larned weighs in on a debate during Friday's meeting. // Photo by Roisin Cowan-Kuist
“The communities that have been most sustainable over time are indigenous communities,” she said. “And communities of color have had zero-waste solutions co-opted from them without being given due credit.” A report conducted by the Center for Effective Government found that people of color are nearly twice as likely as white people to live within a fence-line zone of a landfill or industrial facility. Living near such facilities can have severe health impacts caused by air and water pollution, as well as heightened safety risks due to potential chemical explosions, according to the same report. Beginning to think about how individual consumption and waste plays into a larger system of oppression is exactly the paradigm shift that Students for Zero Waste hopes to facilitate, Larned said.
Students for Zero Waste club members brandish their reusable water bottles at a club meeting Friday. // Photo by Roisin Cowan-Kuist
Club officer Chelsea Douglas acknowledged that people may still view the Zero Waste movement as not being inclusive, but explained that recognizing the history and complexity of the issue yields a greater appreciation for the movement. “I have a lot of privilege to get to learn about zero waste and to get to practice it,” Douglas said. “We didn’t start this movement, and this isn’t the first time zero waste has been done. It just has a new name.” Composting food waste, cooking meals at home instead of eating-out, using cloth bags when grocery shopping and choosing to buy clothing from thrift shops instead of large department stores are among the suggested first-steps one can take. For those students who may want to learn more about going waste-free, the Students for Zero Waste club meets every Friday at 4 p.m. in Artzen Hall room 15. Every Tuesday this quarter, a Western Front reporter will shed light on a Western club. If you would like your club to be featured, email


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