Talking about sustainability pointless without cleaning up our own act first

Spring is here, according to our calendars. Trees are budding, flowers beginning to bloom, young men’s fancies lightly turning to thoughts of love – the whole nine yards. At least, that’s probably the story further south where spring really does start on March 21; here, if we’re lucky, we get temperatures edging into the 40s and enough sun to turn mounds of dirty snow into gritty mud, plus standing water where the ground is still too frozen to absorb any of it.

Alaskans everywhere know what this means: Spring is on its way, but breakup is here right now, and it ain’t pretty. A nice coating of snow hides a multitude of sins, after all, and when the snow melts, it leaves in its wake all the dirt spread on every flat surface for traction, and every bit of litter tossed carelessly away during the winter months.

Take a drive along Seward Highway and you’ll see our version of spring in all its glory: The dead grass is barely visible, gray with gravel, and remaining snow piles don’t even look like snow anymore, they’re so dirty. Ugliest is the litter. Cigarette butts, pop cans, beer bottles, papers, candy wrappers, discarded socks, old T-shirts, even Nalgene bottles – if you can think of it, somebody’s probably chucked it out a car window.

The situation on campus is about as bad. For every student who throws used cigarettes where they belong, two or three more flick their cigarette butts to the ground wherever they happen to be standing. In student housing, it’s even worse; the litter around every entrance can attract unwanted animal attention and definitely does ruin the view for everyone else.

It’s a little more understandable around the dorms, populated as they are mostly by freshmen who – one might charitably assume – just left home and haven’t grown used to picking up after themselves. But what about in the MAC apartments, where students often toss their empty beer cans over the stair railings and out their apartment windows? Those rooms are generally given to students age 21 and older. What’s their excuse?

Leaving a mess for others to clean up isn’t just irresponsible and immature, it’s a practice that will probably lead to trouble if it carries over into the real world.

Inside, things aren’t as bad, but the same laziness still shows up. For a few days last week, several bulletin boards sported handwritten fliers begging students to take their garbage with them out of the classroom if they wanted to keep being allowed to eat in class. Sure, we’re adults now, but individual professors irritated with the chip baggies and Subway wrappers strewn around the classroom can easily forbid eating in their courses.

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Sustainability and green living are big buzzwords here, and growing independence is a major part of any college student’s life. Just how mature or sustainable are we when a good number of us aren’t willing to carry our trash 10 feet to a garbage can – or, better yet, go a bit out of our way and find a place to recycle it? (Hint: Those blue bins all over campus take paper; for everything else, check www.alparalaska.com.) Better yet, take it a step further and get a head start on Citywide Cleanup Week, held May 3-10. There’s plenty of litter to be gathered right now.

Talk is cheap. Cleaning up our act actually means something. Like the signs in nearly every office kitchen say, our mothers do not work here; it’s time we grew up and started taking responsibility for our own messes.