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Environment not a Priority at R-MC?

Robin Van Impe '20

Staff Writer

With climate strikes all over the world, global warming seems to be an inevitable topic everywhere these days. However, at Randolph-Macon, climate does not seem to be a priority. While the world protests for action, Estes keeps using styrofoam, and the college keeps turning a blind eye.

Chartwells, the company that is responsible for dining services on campus, has been asked more than once to stop using styrofoam, without any results. Recently, students tried to get signatures to reduce the amount of plastic and styrofoam that is used at R-MC. On the same day as the petition, the plates, cutlery, glasses and cups, inside of Estes, were replaced with styrofoam cups and plates, and plastic cutlery. This was not the first time this had happened, and it would not be the last. Jared Serr, chef of Estes says: “The dishwasher in Estes is very old, which is why it often breaks down. We are supposed to get a new one this summer, so hopefully, that problem will be solved then.”

Estes used Styrofoam plates and plastic cutlery due to dishwasher problems. Photo Courtesy of Robin van Impe.

Two weeks after the climate strike, the plates and cups we’re once again, switched to styrofoam, because of the broken dishwasher. Styrofoam is a very harmful material to our planet. It is made from polystyrene, a petroleum-based plastic that is non-biodegradable. Not only is it bad for the environment, it can also cause significant harm to our health. Food inside styrofoam containers can be contaminated by chemicals, leaching into the food. The CDC labels styrene, the material inside of styrofoam, as a carcinogen, and have found traces of it in 40% of Americans.

If styrofoam is bad for the environment and our personal health, why would Randolph-Macon not pressure Chartwells to look for a suitable alternative? The answer is simple: money. The college is not willing to invest in the environment because it may cost them a little more than styrofoam plates. Professor Fishbach, professor at R-MC has been advocating for environmental changes. “If everyone thinks it’s too expensive to make changes to change the world, then we will lose the world. I have never noticed a sense of urgency, that this is really important, at the college.”

Hannah Beauregard, president of Students for Environmental Action, feels the same way. “Randolph-Macon is only in the beginning stage of environmental awareness. The student body needs to be more aware of the impact they have. The campus is not just not doing anything, they don’t know what to do. We need to make the college feel that this is something we actually want.”

But can we really blame the college for not making environment a priority, if the students don’t let them know they insist on change? Fishbach says: “The college will only make environment a priority if it feels pressure from somebody. If they want to make something happen, they can make it happen. You just have to have the will first, and sometimes will comes from pressure.”

Even though the college does have recycling bins, it is debatable if this actually improves the environmental situation at our college. Hannah Beauregard of SEA is not convinced. “A lot of what gets thrown in our recycling bins, isn’t actually recyclable, which means the company just won’t take any of it, when they see something that doesn't belong there. The most startling moment on this campus for me, was when I saw a pair of jeans in the recycling bin.”

If we want to change our system, we are the ones that need to take action. The question is: do we care enough to do so? Both Beauregard and Fishbach seem unsure. Fishbach says: “The United States put a person on the moon 50 years ago, in July. The United States builds massive nuclear bombs. If the United States really wanted to do something about this issue, it could.”

Thinking that the students don’t care at all, is hard to accept for Beauregard, and she remains positive. “We’re all trying to learn, even as the president of SEA, I’m not perfect. We should just be more willing and open to bettering ourselves.”

Both Fishbach and Beauregard seem to agree that if we want change, we will have to make an effort. Reducing the amount of plastic, or making environmental improvements, can not be done by the administration or the student body alone. Both have to work together in order to create the changes we wish to see at Randolph-Macon, and to get our college onto the path towards a more sustainable future.

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