What We Can Do To Conserve
Every Monday, Professor Najmedin Meshkati's Freshman Seminar, Technology and the Environment, meets to discuss the relationship between environmental challenges and the world's current ability to resolve them.
To help us better grasp our environmental impact, our class conducted a preliminary survey profiling the current green practices of over 100 students living in freshman dorms. Through our research, we discovered three steps you can take to make the USC community and the world a better place—all while avoiding the Berkeley tree-hugger stereotype!
Easy Captain Planet Tip #1: Unplug your chargers from the wall when your charger isn't actively charging
According to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, LA receives 44% of its power from coal, 32% from natural gas, and a mere 8% from renewable energy (with nuclear and hydroelectric power composing the other 16%). These numbers do not reflect California's progressive mentality regarding environmental conservation. Our survey discovered that students waste this energy in massive quantities. One of the most common (but largely unknown) sources of this waste is vampire power. Vampire power, or “leaking electricity”, is power that electronic devices use while they are either off or in stand-by mode. This includes your cell phone or laptop chargers when plugged into the wall: even when your laptop isn't plugged in to the other end, it's still using power! Although the average cell phone, computer, or iPod charger only uses 10-15 watts of power (a quarter of the usage of a standard lightbulb) while in stand-by mode, these numbers quickly add up when entire buildings leave their chargers plugged in overnight. In fact, it has been estimated that standby power consumption constitutes approximately 5% of the total electricity consumption in the United States, costing us over $3 billion a year.
Easy Captain Planet Tip #2: Turn off the water when you brush your teeth
USC water usage is another major area in need of improvement. Even though 97% of the water on Earth is undrinkable, we seemingly disregard this fact and use the remaining 3% far from sparingly. Wasted water uses extra energy (which costs us money) to be re-purified and returned to the water system. The results of the survey show that around one out of every four students leave the water running while brushing their teeth. With 2,942 students living in on-campus housing, based on our calculations, about 777 of these students let the water run for approximately 4 minutes per day while they brush their teeth (if they actually brush twice a day). At USC water comes out of the faucet at a rate of 0.034 gallons per second, so we can estimate that USC wastes around 6,340.32 gallons of water every day, or 2.3 million gallons per year! USC's yearly wastewater (just from clean teeth) could ?ll 3.5 Olympic-size swimming pools!
Easy Captain Planet Tip #3: Use one of your room's plastic gray waste bins as a recycle bin and empty your recycling into the large blue recycling bins when you throw out your trash (ask your RA if you don't know where your blue bins are)
However, out of all the green solutions in California or the world today, the issue of recycling is arguably the most familiar. Although it is not highly publicized, USC already has a limited recycling program in place. All USC waste is processed by Athens Services, the company that operates the big green trucks seen around campus. Waste thrown both in recycling and trash bins is taken by Athens Services to their Material Recovery Facility east of LA. Garbage trucks deposit mounds of garbage here daily, which are separated into huge piles. The trash piles are compressed and transported to a landfill. Recyclables piles are pushed onto a conveyor belt where workers categorize individual recyclables by hand. Only “about 50% of [USC's] waste” would be recovered, representatives from greentrojans.com were told, even if the University subscribes to every one of Athens' recycling services. “This service currently represents the University's approach to public, outdoor recycling. Rather than placing outdoor recycling receptacles throughout the campus and presorting recycling, all trash and recycling is hauled together and sorted by Athens employees miles away in the City of Industry. The University is currently designing signs to be placed on each trash can which will inform the community that this sorting occurs.” At the moment, there are only 10 publicly available recycling bins around campus (not including dorms), but presorting your Coke bottles and Starbucks cups into these bins reduces the need for Athens' sorting services and therefore costs less for the University. If we show that we value recycling and put it as a high priority, the convenience of on-campus recycling will increase.
Whether or not you believe in global warming, the health of the planet we live on depends upon the choices we, as individuals and a society, make. By unplugging your chargers, turning off the water while you brush your teeth, and making the effort to recycle rather than just throw away, we Trojans can make our own grass a little greener.
Please refer to www.greentrojans.com for more information on what USC is currently doing to make the campus greener.