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A Cleaner Sweep

Cambridge City Hall

At a public hearing Tuesday, the City of Cambridge announced that it had made significant progress towards achieving its so-called “Zero Waste” goals and other sustainability initiatives pertaining to recycling and composting, aiming to drastically cut the amount of waste that Cantabrigians send to landfills.

The success of this program should serve as motivational evidence that local efforts to protect the environment can pay great dividends. We hope that our fellow Cantabrigians also appreciate their direct impact, such as the million-plus pounds of organic trash diverted from landfills in the first six months of this program alone.

We’re similarly glad to also see Harvard’s own progress in minimizing waste. According to the 2017 Harvard Sustainability Report, per capita waste decreased 44 percent from 2006 levels. Given that conservation is a common interest of both the city and the University, these twin successes are a strong testament to what can be accomplished when the two work together. Since high levels of waste are harmful to all community members, it is of tantamount importance to ensure widespread participation from city residents to make sure that our progress is sustained and built upon in the future.

Nevertheless, given that seven of 20 state landfills in Massachusetts are closing, we must also keep in mind that waste reduction going forward will be a necessity, and not simply a lifestyle choice. In order to create this mentality shift, the next generation must be aware of environmental protection efforts’ global importance. Widespread educational programs in public schools and other city-sponsored programs would go a long way in ensuring that young Cantabrigians are equally committed to waste reduction.

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Such programs have proven effective in Hong Kong, and could potentially result in similar mindset shifts in citizens here. Additionally, since schools themselves can be a major source of waste, educational programs specifically targeted at public schools may reduce waste immediately.

Cambridge is a city of highly educated and motivated citizens. While Harvard and Cambridge’s progress to date deserves praise, we must not rest on our collective laurels. Going forward, we should do our best to effect change on the state, national, and even global scale. Given the number of Harvard alumni who go on to serve in national leadership, we believe that a greater focus on the importance of waste management and environmental protection from the University might impact some of those future leaders.

We hope that residents across Cambridge learn that they have the capability to create change on a local scale. Climate change often feels like a hopelessly insurmountable problem, and this may paralyze us. Yet when we start small, by composting or recycling more, we can build a measurably greener and cleaner city — and perhaps world.

This staff editorial is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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