Convenience and Waste:

A Critical Study of Sustainability Opportunities for CMU’s Campus

Kathy Zhang


Waste management refers to all actions necessary to deal with the trash we produce. We are awash in a sea of trash, and it is important to understand why trash is produced and managed the way it is. This is a matter of physical processes; it is also a matter of cultural expectations and behaviors. How we approach waste has serious consequences on our environment, especially in regard to the amount of non-biodegradable waste we produce. How did we get to this point of maximum trash, and what could be done to improve the cultural relationship of producer, consumer, and the endless stream of trash? In order to establish a more sustainable waste management system, producers must recognize and act upon their responsibility in minimizing the amount of waste their products create rather than promoting the individualization of responsibility.


I am studying the social, cultural, and political systems surrounding waste management, because I want to identify how waste management practices at CMU and beyond could be improved upon and addressed through art to maximize sustainability. CMU plays into the individualization of responsibility by fostering a campus which makes it difficult for students to live sustainably while pushing initiatives that depend on student choices. I argue that one fundamental way the university could live up to their commitment to sustainability is through the creation of an Office of Sustainability. I also argue that sustainability and art are inextricably connected through culture, and that art can play a significant role in issues such as waste management by illustrating facts and data, encouraging change, inspiring passion, and more.