Chances are the soda can that stood next to your lunch plate today had an entirely different owner 60 days earlier.
Most aluminum cans are recycled within two months of being tossed, according to The Aluminum Association, so it’s likely that can in your hand has had more lives than a hundred cats.
It could have been chugged, then involved in a head-on collision with a brutish forehead behind the Plexiglas of a championship hockey game; or stomped and left clinging to the foot of a child making galloping sounds down a neighborhood sidewalk.
Maybe it once mimicked the lights of a disco ball during a middle school dance in a dimly lit gymnasium; or was siphoned by a straw to George Clooney’s lips as he traveled an exotic bay in a private yacht between takes of his latest movie last summer.
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If that can was near UNC Charlotte in 1990, it could have been one of the first cans picked up on campus by the small group of students who began the university’s first recycling program.
Sorting cans from campus trash bins and delivering them to recycling centers, those students were partly responsible for the university’s emerging focus on sustainability practices.
That small step back then has led to miles of Earth-friendly changes at the university today.
On April 16, UNCC will showcase some of those changes during its 22nd annual Earth Day Festival, a free event for the public that educates on the innovative ways the university and surrounding communities are protecting the Earth for the next generation.
The festival, sponsored by the university’s Facilities Management team, will be on the College of Health & Human Services Plaza from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. At least 30 vendors and organizations from the university and the community have signed on to demonstrate sustainability practices, from commercial composting for local restaurants to alternative fuel options.
The festival coincides with Earth Day, an international event celebrated every April 22 since 1970 to highlight and support environmental protection goals. Earth Day is popular on university campuses nationwide.
UNCC began its Earth Day celebration in 1992 as a means to educate people as to its sustainability efforts.
“A lot of people are very concerned about the environment and interested in learning things that we do,” said Devin Hatley, UNCC’s environmental educator for Facilities Management. “It’s just something that we’ve kept going annually, and I don’t see it stopping anytime soon.”
UNCC has come a long way since the days of picking aluminum cans from trash bins.
Today, the campus recycles 40 different kinds of items, from paper to batteries. Last year, it recycled 2.5 million pounds of material.
One of its latest efforts was to create a zero-waste football stadium. Jerry Richardson Stadium, home to the university’s new football team, is one of the first in the nation to have a zero-waste policy. Products sold during games are environmentally friendly, and special bins are set up throughout the stadium, each with a volunteer to show fans how to sort their trash.
“Almost everything is either composted or recycled on game days,” said Hatley.
Hatley said he doesn’t know what kinds of new recycling methods will turn up for future use on campus, but he likes to think the university’s largest resource – its students – will continue behind the sustainability movement, just like that small group of students who began the campus recycling efforts years ago.
“Hopefully they’ll gain some knowledge they didn’t have before, and possibly get involved with some of the groups that are out there that day,” he said of this year’s Earth Day Festival patrons. “It’s important to minimize our footprint.”