Dressed from head to toe in garbage, Stony Brook Environmental Club president Condrea Zhuang paraded through the Earthstock Festival, Stony Brook University’s largest sustainability celebration on campus, on Friday, April 19.
Zhuang posed in the Student Activities Center (SAC) to protest plastic waste production on campus. She carried a sign that read “Your day in trash” and “Recycling is not enough!” Her trash costume — made up of water bottles, balloons and plastic bags taped on to her clothes — courted stares from passersby.
“This event is inherently unsustainable,” Zhuang, a senior majoring in sustainability studies, said. “There’s so much stuff in plastic, those rubber ducks are plastic, the things they’re giving away are also wrapped in plastic.”
Zhuang also pointed out that the university hasn’t been updating information on sustainability on its website. For instance, Stony Brook’s webpage on recycling statistics has not been updated since 2014. The Town of Brookhaven stopped recycling glass, plastics #3 to #7 and soiled cardboard in late November — all of which the university uses. Zhuang said that the school didn’t announce the change to students.
Stony Brook’s webpage on recycling & resource management lists new recycling procedures, but its “What We Recycle” webpage still includes all plastics, glass and cardboard.
“What Stony Brook does is they pay lip service to sustainability initiatives,” Zhuang said. “Stony Brook is not sustainable at all and I’m here to show people how much waste can be generated.”
Zhuang said one of the greatest sources of waste at Stony Brook is the dining halls, which distribute plastic takeout containers during the day and disposable plates, cutlery and cups during late night hours. These materials are often used once before being thrown out. However, since last spring, students are offered reusable takeout containers for a $5 deposit.
The average American produces 120 tons of garbage in their lifetime, and a university student produces 640 pounds of waste every year.
“The students have to show FSA and Stony Brook administration that they care about this,” Zhuang said. “They don’t want to put more plastic into the planet.”
Food degradation in landfills produces methane, a greenhouse gas. Stony Brook only composts pre-consumer food waste such as egg shells and fruit and vegetable waste, leaving table scraps and leftover food for the landfills. Currently, Stony Brook does not donate uneaten food to soup kitchens or homeless shelters.
As Zhuang walked through the SAC, Earthstock vendors and attendees stopped to take pictures of her display. Many cheered her on.
“It made me realize that we probably do produce that much trash but we never think about it,” Lin Stern, a retired personnel analyst from Commack, said.
“I think this puts a lot of environmental problems into perspective for people,” Emily Masters, a sophomore biology major and Environmental Club member, said.
A second protest was scheduled for April 22, on Earth Day, but it was canceled due to rain. The university didn’t respond to requests for comment in time for publication.