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Today, the environment is an increasingly popular conversation topic. Everywhere, people are discussing the impact of global warming and how to live more sustainably.

According to the Global Language Monitor, the top phrase of 2007 was “climate change” and the top word of 2006 was “sustainable.”

Clearly, international concern about Mother Nature is slowly growing in strength.

And nowhere is this concern more palpable than at Arizona State University. ASU is home to the School of Sustainability, the first U.S. school to offer degrees in sustainability. Students are constantly given suggestions to “go green,” and organizations are springing up across campus under the banner of environmentalism.

On Sept. 9, ASU President Michael Crow sent students an e-mail titled “The Sustainable Sun Devil.” In it, Crow publicly reiterated ASU’s commitment to the environment. He wrote that the Global Institute of Sustainability is spearheading this campaign by researching ways to improve water, energy and climate issues.

But from a student’s perspective, this public commitment may seem invisible, only involving university-level adjustments. Besides the standard energy-saving tips, can students really get involved in ASU’s “green” revolution?

And the program with the greatest potential for student participation — on-campus recycling — is experiencing problems. Either recycling bins begin overflowing too quickly or they’re nowhere to be found.

Without this convenience, should students really continue practicing sustainability? Especially considering the current debate against global warming, do sustainability’s benefits really outweigh its costs?

To both questions: Yes.

We mustn’t dismiss the sustainability movement as an impractical response to global warming, or stereotype its proponents as enthusiastic liberals without practical solutions.

Sustainability isn’t just an attractive catchphrase; it’s a legitimate challenge to environmental apathy. And our University is leading the nation in a proactive recognition of humankind’s impact on global warming.

This recognition is beginning with the revitalization of ASU’s recycling program.

Dawn Ratcliffe, the program’s coordinator, has partnered with representatives from the Grounds Department and the Global Institute of Sustainability to strengthen campus recycling.

“We’re changing the entire recycling program to make it more efficient and also easier to recycle,” she said.

The largest of these improvements involves coordinating recycling and trash pick-up with the custodial staff. Custodians will alternate pick-up days between trash and recycling, ensuring that both will be collected frequently.

Moreover, the program received funds for technology to make recycling easier.

A train-cart system will transport recyclables across campus, increasing the number of recycling bins and making recycling more convenient. Also, recycling compactors are being bought to increase ASU’s capacity for recyclables.

Interestingly, disposing of recycling is actually cheaper by weight than disposing of garbage, according to Ratcliffe. It’s just one example of how sustainability can be better both fiscally and environmentally.

And the current recycling woes are inevitable results of a program experiencing improvements and upgrades. Solutions are being developed to address the problems, Ratcliffe said.

“By the end of the semester, we’ll see a big difference,” she said.

These improvements to the recycling program should encourage student participation, said Heather McFelea, president of Students Act Now for Sustainability, in an e-mail. SANS is an on-campus organization promoting sustainability education.

“I think recycling will increase sustainability awareness,” she said. “The simple tasks of separating trash from recyclables ... keep sustainability in students’ minds every day.”

Which is exactly where it belongs.

David can be reached by e-mail at

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