I was at Princeton for the first time in 15 years to celebrate my 20th reunion with the Class of ’99. It was a joyous occasion spent connecting with classmates and sharing our successes and challenges of the past two decades. However, I was troubled by the general lack of awareness and effort toward meaningful reduction of waste at the various tents and during the P-rade. This was surprising to me, as Princeton loves to tout the leadership role it plays in sustainability.
What better place for Princeton to show its commitment to sustainability than Reunions, when thousands of alumni and their families descend on campus? Everywhere I looked, plastic cups were used liberally and discarded inappropriately, despite the widely accepted projections that pieces of plastic will outnumber marine life in our oceans by 2040. The costumes we were issued were made of polyester fiber and sequins, will probably never be worn again, and will just end up in landfills. Many people had brought plastic foam coolers to Reunions, seemingly unaware of the fact that styrene is carcinogenic in its production, consumption, and disposal, and never goes away.
I am a native of Miami and have spent most of my life in South Florida, which is ground zero for sea-level rise, toxic algal blooms, and the overall effects of climate change. Perhaps because of this, I feel a great sense of urgency to mitigate the effects of human activity on climate change.
I hope that moving forward, Princeton can be more effective in engaging its alumni community regarding sustainability. In defense of its policy not to provide recycling containers at Reunions, the University is correct to point out that recycling practices have become lower yield now that other countries are no longer accepting our recyclables. However, there is vast room for improvement with respect to generating waste in the first place and having all Princetonians exercise “Princeton in the service of the planet” by being stewards for change.