Monday, April 9, 2018

Calling on my fellow college students: Stop trashing the Bay

by Julia Gentillo, communications intern

Although it’s the smallest state, Rhode Island has nearly 400 miles of coastline and 12 college and universities that students seasonally attend from August to May. These student bodies have an opportunity to positively impact the state, but are students doing more harm than anything else?

As a student at Roger Williams University in Bristol, I’ve experienced first-hand how college students treat their seasonal home. The Mount Hope Bay is one of the biggest selling points for the university—at least, it was for me. From anywhere on campus, I can catch a glimpse of the glistening bay. However, a closer look tells different story. When I visit some of my fellow students' most beloved spots along the shore, I find broken beer bottles, cigarette butts and school supplies scattered everywhere. My fellow students always brag about the Bay, but I wonder, why are they trashing it?

Growing up along the Hudson River taught me a lot about water quality and care. The Hudson is notorious for being dirty and polluted, so I was always conditioned to be mindful about the environment and the repercussions my actions will have on it. But it seems to me as if other college students don’t have the same attitudes when it comes to caring for the water. Although it is embarrassing to admit, I thought all water had the same grayish, murky tint until I came to Rhode Island. Now I know better: the Bay should never look like that.

Each year, Save The Bay organizes dozens of cleanups along Rhode Island’s shorelines. The cleanups take place on weekends from March to October throughout the state. Last year on International Coastal Cleanup day in September, over 2 million cigarette butts and 500,000 glass beverage bottles were collected across the country. Locally, Save The Bay volunteers cleared our coastal areas of 35,000 cigarette butts and 4,000 glass bottles.

Prior to interning at Save The Bay, I was really unaware of the issues with the Bay. I knew about a lot of broken bottles and trash along the shore, but what other problems could there really be? Well, as it turns out, Save The Bay does much more than just organize beach cleanups across the state.  I think colleges and universities in the area really need to push and educate more about the Bay and Save The Bay’s mission. There is so much everyone can do. The problem is so much bigger than just protecting the Narragansett Bay and its watershed, it’s a global issue.

Approximately, 83,111 students attend a college or university in Rhode Island. If each college student picked up just one pound of trash, we would be able to sextuple the amount of marine debris picked up in Rhode Island in 2017. Even if each college student couldn’t attend an official beach cleanup, they can still participate and make a positive impact. The Ocean Conservancy’s “Trash Free Seas” campaign has created an app to track individual efforts to clean up coastal areas. The app, Clean Swell, gives users an opportunity to share their results and learn more about the impact of marine debris. Clean Swell would be a great effort to get college students involved because let’s face it, we are always on our phones.

On average, 80 percent of college students drink, consuming roughly seven drinks per week. I am not a math major but, I believe that breaks down to 66,489 students drinking 465,422 drinks each week. Where do all of the 465,422 beverage containers end up? We all know not everything makes it into the proper recycling bin. Imagine the impact if 83,111 students stopped littering? Imagine how clean our shores would be if hundreds of thousands of bottles didn’t end up there in the first place.

I know college is overwhelming and stressful, but we shouldn’t treat our environment as if we don’t have time for it. It’s time for college students to stand up and take action about littering and marine debris, even if you don’t think you’re contributing to the problem. Leaving thousands of bottles along the shore does not solve anything. We have the power to positively impact the environment and keep the Bay looking clean and beautiful, unlike the Hudson.

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