Environmental Injustice in Boulder
Greener Than Most
By Rohan Ramnani
Over the last decade, global warming and environmental injustice issues have frequently made headlines; but instead of merely observing those headlines, like many of us do, the University of Colorado Boulder has been working to change them. For years, CU and members of the Boulder community have been creating the necessary steps and implementing them to help campus life prosper; but how does this progression stack up against other universities?
According to the Environmental Center at CU Boulder, if products are unable to be “reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled or composted, then it should be restricted, redesigned, or removed from production”. From the use of small utilities such as water fountains, to large events such as football games, CU finds a way to implement a process called Zero Waste. This revolves around the idea that anything that is used will not be wasted and, in turn, not hurt the environment. By the end of 2017, Boulder should reach it’s target of 85 percent diversion of solid waste, and 90 percent by the year 2020. Even though this process eliminates most of the waste created, CU decided not to stop there. Part of the process of Zero Waste involves a composting center at an off site location in partnership with the city of Boulder, and an on campus market for the products of the composted waste for recreational or campus use. This means that the 10 to 15 percent of the leftover solid waste created every year is composted and reused on campus. This then contributes to the goal of Zero Waste on CU’s campus by bringing the processes involving waste management full circle.
According to a Boston College research article published in 2017, the average student at any given university usually produces around 640 pounds of waste annually; which means that if the average university size is 30,000 students, then a single university produces about 9,600 tons of waste every year! As we can infer, the amount of waste CU produces is marginal in relation to the average university in the United States.
In addition to the excellent waste management program, CU provides bottle filling stations to substitute for plastic use, bike rentals to limit fuel usage, and multiple recycling cans around campus. However, CU has many areas that still need improvement. For example, those living in less affluent parts of town usually end up residing near areas with landfills and increased amounts of pollution. SarahDawn Haynes, Outreach and Engagement Coordinator at the CU Environmental Center, supported this claim when she said “between 60 to 80 percent of the kids living under a zip code 80216 have asthma” because they are located downwind of a coal fired factory. Although there will be lower income families that live in certain parts of town in any society, the environment that they live in doesn’t have to be degraded to such a point, as mentioned in an interview with Michael Kodas, the Deputy Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism. The city of Boulder is so compacted that the use of cars is almost not needed, especially in a campus setting. Many students who attend the university already walk, bike, or skateboard but there are still large amount of students who drive cars or motorcycles when their classes, stores, and restaurants are all at most a 30 minute walking distance from central campus. Services such as Uber, Lyft, and the RTD bus are easy to access and readily available at any time; so the use of a car on campus, or even in Boulder is not needed. There are some aspects of daily life that will negatively impact the environment despite our efforts to stop them, however, there are easy ways to save the environment and today’s society should make every effort to do so.
For the past 10 years in a row, Sierra Magazine named the University of Colorado at Boulder one of the top tier “Green” universities in the nation, which is no surprise, but a great compliment to the staff and students who work hard to make the environment their priority. What this also tells CU is that there is room to improve despite their existing great track record. They also realize that this improvement will only come about when a concerted effort from both staff and students is put forth. The ethical aspects of this community come first; there are many areas that are next to landfills with poor air quality which unnecessarily degrade the standard of living and the health of the citizens here at Boulder. Secondly, there are alternate actions such as riding bikes or skateboards, recycling, and limiting the use of plastics that students can easily do in effort to help the environment of Boulder. CU also provides public transportation if needed, which is also much more efficient and less expensive than owning a car; and with today’s technology, services such as Uber and Lyft are at the tips of our fingers and a push of a button away. The University of Colorado Boulder is already well ahead of many universities in the nation but there are still many goals CU has yet to achieve in terms of the environment protection and ethics, and it is in the nature of this school to do so.
Pollution in Boulder
Photos by Conner Davis
Do Boulderites Live up to Their Eco-Friendly Stereotype?
By Conner Davis
Boulder: a Colorado mountain town with a shocking lack of diversity, and a supposed overwhelming presence of hippies and environmental activists. Walking around town, it’s immediately obvious that there’s some truth to the environmentally green stereotype. There are signs to conserve water while washing hands, low-flow toilets, solar panels, various bins for different types of trash and more sustainability-inspired efforts.
On the surface, yes, Boulder does help out with being environmentally green and assisting with environmental awareness. However, most of those environmental “heroes” are hypocrites.
I’m not saying people go out and throw their trash in the streets — though some do — and intentionally pollute more than they need to. People are just naturally less eco-friendly in a wealthy city like Boulder.
The video “The Story of Stuff,” illustrates the reason for this perfectly. In a nutshell, Annie Leonard describes the cycle through which any object goes through: extraction, production, distribution, consumption and disposal. We exploit natural resources, take them to factories to produce goods, send the goods out all across the country, buy them and get throw them away within days.
She goes on to say that this isn’t really the case though; there are lots of steps in between, like how the United States mines resources from and sends much of our trash to third-world countries.
The United States produced 254 million tons of trash in 2013, according to the LA Times — that makes it the biggest trash-generating country in the world.
Jim Puckett did a study where he put trackers in e-waste centers to see where they would end up. PBS Newshour reported that they traveled to Mexico, Taiwan, China, Pakistan, Thailand, Dominican Republic, Canada and Kenya. For the most part, though, their journey ended in rural Hong Kong. This is the case for much of the e-waste and and other trash in America –– it’s sent to less fortunate countries for them to pick through and do what they please with it.
Consumption is terrible for the environment for those reasons, and there’s a lot of consumption in Boulder. With a median household value of $690,000, Boulder residents typically have plenty to spend on luxuries. All this spending just leads to more goods, more waste and more exporting.
That’s not the only way Boulder harms the environment. Due to the high cost of living, many who work in Boulder aren’t able to live in the city. They’re forced to reside in more reasonably priced cities surrounding Boulder like Longmont or Broomfield.
When workers are forced out, they harm the environment because they have to take their car or a bus to work, which causes more pollution. Boulder produces 26,910 tons per year of carbon monoxide from vehicles alone. From all sources, 45,633 tons of carbon monoxide enter the atmosphere.
Even when those workers do live in Boulder, there’s a good chance that they take their car to work. We as humans are obsessed with being faster in everything we do — we crave instant gratification.
Who would walk five or ten minutes just to sit in the heat for the bus when you could just hop in your nice, air-conditioned car? The answer is very few people. People who truly value the environment or cannot afford a car are the ones who take the initiative to wait for the bus.
Despite all of these negative things, there are positives. During the 2016-2017 school year, the Residence Hall Association (RHA) decided to make all programs as close to zero waste as possible. That means everything used will be recyclable or compostable and nothing will go into a landfill at the end of the program. It’s an ambitious goal but one in the right direction.
Environmental injustice and harming the environment isn’t always on purpose, as with the case of consumption pollution. Regardless, it still happens. Taking initiative to consume less and therefore put less trash into the environment is a good place to start, but people need to start thinking of the environment before themselves before any real progress is made.
Infographic by Conner Davis
Concert Brings Environmental Justice
By Bre Taylor
For the average concert goer there are a few common expectations: great music, good energy, some crowd surfing and tons of trash. One of these expectations was missing at this year’s Dead and Company concert at University of Colorado Boulder. Over the last two years, the Dead and Company concert held at Folsom Field has been fighting this issue head on with its team of environmentally minded students.
The Huffington Post claims that in 2015, the top 100 tours sold about 60 million water bottles and 130 million paper goods. This trash is a part of the overall culture of concerts. CU Boulder focuses heavily on the reduction of landfill waste. This is a priority at events of all sizes on campus and the zero-waste concert was endorsed at Folsom Field’s showing of the band Dead and Company. According to the Boulder Daily Camera, this two-day concert had an average of 25,000 attendees per show. Typically, the waste produced from these concerts goes towards landfills, but that was not the case with this event. The CU team responsible for this progress, the Environmental Center, led the charge and exemplified the idea of being environment friendly by ensuring the vendors only sold products that were compostable or recyclable and by going through every bag of trash that came out of the concert.
The center’s outreach and engagement coordinator, SarahDawn Haynes, spoke to the work done by the team and how much of an impact it can create. “I watched one of their production managers, who has traveled the world and seen it all, be so impressed with our team of students. We sort every bag that comes out of the concert. I want to say there were thirty to fifty thousand people,” Dawn said about her interaction with Dead and Company’s production manager.
While this zero-waste concert was a massive undertaking, it is not the end of the help offered by the center. There are an abundance of clubs and services offered for the community. This eco-friendly concert was held on campus, but the center also offers other programs which aim to help the larger community to make a difference. Certain services offer similar project help, services like the Recycling at Your Event. This program offers students, faculty and staff the opportunity to facilitate zero-waste events. The University of Colorado Boulder uses its resources to contribute to the larger communities environment.
This center used a single concert to make the necessary effort towards a larger issue: the environments of communities, whether that just be local or international, stable or impoverished. This movement is geared toward future endeavors that conquer injustices of all kinds towards our environment. Haynes acknowledges this. “We have done so much in the last forty seven years around sustainability. We go to conferences and we have an international reputation for being leaders in sustainability and it’s true we’ve done a lot of amazing things but internally we know how much there still is to do.”