As Brandeis prepared to open for an unprecedented fall 2020 semester, the University took significant measures to limit the number of students, staff and faculty who contract COVID-19. These measures include rapid frequency testing, daily health assessments and the installment of food ordering apps such as Bite and GET. However, while Brandeis has proved capable of containing the spread of COVID-19 on its campus, there is an area upon which the University and its community can improve sustainability. 

As students settle back into campus life amid a pandemic, multiple factors complicate students’ ability to live a more sustainable lifestyle at Brandeis. One such factor is that all meals from the dining halls are put into take-out containers. Many students may lack the knowledge surrounding the proper disposal of waste products, and due to this they may improperly dispose of garbage products in compostable or recyclable bins. Once compostable and recyclable materials are contaminated they are considered garbage, thus defeating the purpose of composting and recycling on campus. To mitigate this growing issue on campus, the Office of Sustainability has created several guides to encourage students to properly dispose of their waste. Their guides range from choosing the correct bin to disposing of take-out packaging. This past week, Lower Usdan placed a poster near the exit with examples of items that might be given out in the dining hall and where it would be appropriate to dispose of them. 

Another issue threatening sustainability on campus is the plastic utensils students are provided with upon arrival to either Sherman or Usdan dining halls. The continued use of these single-use plastic items has an impact on both human health and the environment, as Brandeis Sustainability Manager Mary Fischer explained in her Sept. 14 email to the Justice. She also explained that most recycling facilities in the United States are not equipped to separate small, brittle items such as plastic utensils. As a result, these utensils are less likely to be properly sorted by these facilities. According to Fischer, in order to reduce the amount of waste generated by plastic utensils, the Office of Sustainability is working on a reusable utensil giveaway. The giveaway is supposed to take place via an email that area coordinators send out to their residents. Residents are then prompted to answer three questions and sign up to receive a reusable utensil set. The editorial board applauds the efforts set forth by the Office of Sustainability, and we encourage the University to also provide off-campus students with sustainable living guidance during the pandemic. 

Whether or not you are on campus this fall, the editorial board recommends the following tips to living a more sustainable lifestyle. Wearing masks is just a new part of the COVID-19 pandemic reality; however, the repeated use of a one-time-use surgical mask can quickly accumulate waste. Instead, we encourage the use of reusable cloth face masks that are washed after each use, which are still effective in protecting you from COVID-19 particles. For those who still use surgical face masks, it is imperative that one properly dispose of their face masks. This means cutting off the strings of the surgical mask before putting them in the trash. This way, animals are less likely to get stuck in them.

Other suggestions include turning off your lights when you are no longer in your room and unplugging appliances, phone and laptop chargers overnight. You can also consider turning off fans in your room at night and instead using a white noise machine or playing white noise soundtracks on your phone. Also, consider washing your clothes in cold water; heating the water accounts for 90% of the energy used in washing machines.

This board understands that the COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly changing the way people live and interact with one another and the environment around them, and that the onus of protecting the environment should not be placed only on the individual. However, living sustainably to whatever extent you can is still important — and it is not about achieving perfection, it’s about continual practice. Practice does not make perfect, it makes better.