By Maddie Bernard, Guest Columnist

As I mindlessly tossed my used coffee cup into the garbage after class one day, something caught my eye as I began to walk away.

I looked back at the familiar beige Pacific Lutheran University garbage cans that are divided into three sections: cans and bottles, paper and landfill.

“Landfill,” I thought, “that is really interesting. My coffee cup is not simply going into the trash, but into a landfill.”

This may sound naive, but I had never really made the connection that I was directly throwing my coffee cup into one of America’s multiple landfills. Many people, myself included, think that once we discard our trash it just vanishes and is not our problem anymore.

“You just think that trash goes away,” first-year Jeremy Jackson said. “But when you see ‘landfill’ on the garbage can, then you think ‘Wow, this is going straight to the landfill.’”

There are 1,754 active landfills in the United States. If you took all the trash from the U.S. landfills and piled it into one massive landfill, it would be 32 times larger than the Great Pyramid in Egypt.

The harsh reality is, trash is still our problem even though we personally may not see it. It is important to realize that we are all contributing to landfills and to reduce our waste.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2012 alone, Americans threw out 251 million tons of garbage. About 36 million pounds put into landfills was food waste.

Most food waste is biodegradable, and should not end up in a landfill but instead, a compost pile. Composting is a great way to reduce our waste, and give back to the earth at the same time.

When organic material decomposes, it creates a rich and fertile soil. Landfills however, pollute the earth and sometimes leak toxic material.

Another way to reduce the amount of waste in landfills is to throw away less food. While PLU offers wonderful all-you-care-to-eat dinners, it is easy to take more food than you need and end up throwing extra food away. This extra food often ends up in landfills where it does not belong.

As college students, we can make a difference and not take more food than we can eat and be conscious that our trash and excess food will end up in a landfill. I think PLU reminds students of this every day by substituting the word, “trash” for “landfill” on most garbage cans.

“Trash just isn’t a good word,” sophomore Courtney Lee said. “‘Trash’ is something you are getting rid of, whereas ‘landfill’ means that you are literally putting your garbage into the earth.”

For some PLU students, substituting the word “landfill” for “trash” on garbage cans does not make much of a difference in their lives, but it is a nice daily reminder of our individual responsibility to reduce our waste and save our planet.

So next time you go to throw something out, be mindful about the word on the garbage can, because you can prevent waste from going into a landfill.

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