If you were to take a step off the College Avenue campus toward Easton Avenue, you may have noticed that people have occasionally left their garbage on the ground.
There is widespread, visual evidence of the littering that occurs in the off-campus neighborhoods where many students live. Take a stroll after a busy weekend on campus, and the streets seem to have more trash than cars on them.
The New Jersey Clean Communities Council releases a survey every year which evaluates littering in the Garden State. The good news: Overall rates of littering have gone down specifically in recent years with a 53% decrease in the state since 2004.
The bad news: The age group 11 to 34, which includes the vast majority of college students, are most likely to litter as pedestrians or motorists, according to the report.
New Brunswick, contrary to popular belief, contains more than just college students. People outside of the bubble of college culture live and raise families in and around the city.
Place yourself in their shoes. You live here year-round, only for a wave of students to trash the streets every semester. Fraternity parties are particularly guilty in this regard, with disposable containers of alcohol and cups being strewn about the street after a long night.
It legitimately harms public perception of the city, which in turn deflates property values. Some areas of New Brunswick are run-down to begin with, and trash lining the sidewalks does nothing to help public perception of the area.
Due to surface runoff, plastics and other poorly discarded trash materials can make their way from the streets into the oceans. “In addition to degrading the habitats and ecosystem services that humans use, plastic aquatic debris can directly interfere with navigation, impede commercial and recreational fishing, threaten health and safety and reduce tourism,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Visual pollution, a term used to describe visual degradation of an area, is also a fault of excessive littering. It is a plain and simple eyesore, especially when you have to see it each day. Having a clean area is an important aspect of community pride.
Broadening a bit, Rutgers is somewhat responsible for this. It is the reason that students flock to New Brunswick for school, and students are the reason for the widespread littering. Accordingly, Rutgers should take some responsibility for the issue, and take initiative when it comes to cleaning up the area.
Other schools have ran cleanup programs, such as Pennsylvania State University. Back in 2017, students picked up 14,400 cigarette butts. Another Big Ten colleague, Ohio State University, has a “Clean Up Columbus” program, which is a monthly litter pick-up event. As Rutgers students are causing much of the littering that occurs in New Brunswick, the University should use students for cleanup programs.
As easy as it would be to pin the issue on Rutgers as a whole, the reality is that this stems largely from the students themselves.
Students are adults, with the vast majority of students here at Rutgers being above the age of 18. We all need to do a better job of displaying maturity through positive actions. What respectable person tosses plastic into a patch of grass? Is it that difficult to make it to a recycling bin? Of course not. Students can also circumvent this issue by using reusable materials rather than plastics.
There are environmental groups on campus that could pitch in. While it is beneficial to hold other events raising awareness about climate change and other environmental issues, smaller-scale changes, such as cleaning up street trash for a few hours each weekend, can also make a big difference in the long run.
If students really care about the environment, they would have no problem spending some time cleaning it up directly.
Students for Environmental Awareness (SEA), Rutgers Solar Car Club and the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (NJPIRG) are among many groups that deal with environmental advocacy. Contributing to these groups, as well as the groups themselves taking on more cleaning projects, would be a big step.
The top recommendation in the aforementioned litter report is to “develop programs to address the most littered items and outreach to the identified age groups of litterers.” This makes the solution to this issue two-pronged: Rutgers and on-campus environmental groups must take more initiative and create programs that make a real, visible difference, and students must take personal initiative to stop littering.
The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 151st editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.