Guest column: Andreas Kanagasuriam steps in this week to school international students on recycling.
Guest column: Andreas Kanagasuriam steps in this week to school international students on recycling.

Hey international students – we suck at recycling

Norway’s recycling system can be hard to understand, but there’s no excuse for finding used batteries in the compost bin.

Living in Norwegian student housing has taught me a few important lessons. I now know that mold can be a pain in the ass to deal with. I’ve learned the art of leaving passive-aggressive cues in the common areas. Most importantly, though, I’ve learned that we international students are just the worst at recycling.

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I can’t put too much blame on Norway’s recycling system, though. First of all, the fact that an elaborate recycling system exists at all is a laudable thing, indicating Norwegians know it’s not in their best interests to turn our planet into a ball of trash with an atmosphere. Secondly, the recycling system is already pretty straightforward. Blue bags are for plastic, green bags for compost, a separate box for cardboard or paper, and regular plastic bags for just about everything else.

When I clean up my room, I don’t have time to get into philosophical debates with myself about whether my paper plate belongs in the cardboard or compost recycling.

Still, it is not uncommon to see people put their trash in the wrong place, somehow managing, for instance, to dump rotten vegetables into the plastic recycling. It’s one thing if you’re drunk one night and can’t think clearly but given the frequency it would seem that some of you might have a serious drinking problem. Really, though, I don’t care how much of a drinking problem you have, if you’ve gotten this far in life, it should be blatantly clear that batteries are not biodegradable.

I get it, though. In practice, it’s often unclear. It happens to the best of us. When I clean up my room, I don’t have time to get into philosophical debates with myself about whether my paper plate belongs in the cardboard or compost recycling, when I’m just trying to clear off enough space on my desk so I can work on the assignment I’m two weeks behind on.

Normally though, it shouldn’t be too difficult to follow the relatively simple guidelines. What is it that makes it so difficult, then? Maybe just force of habit. Back when I lived in Canada, it seemed that there could just as well have been a hole in the ground where every item that had burned through its utility could be tossed, next to a few untouched recycling boxes that were great for giving the impression we care about the environment.

It’s not the system that’s different then – it’s the culture. Norwegians are expected to adhere much more strictly to the rules. And they do!

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This, again, is something I think deserves respect. The recycling system in Oslo is a great initiative the Norwegian government and people have taken. It means Norwegians are contributing to keeping our planet going strong, perhaps adding a few years to its longevity. Even if, statistically, the trash that Norway creates constitutes a very small percentage of garbage in the world, every little bit helps, and it sets an example that other countries can hopefully follow.

My fellow international students, let’s not create a new stereotype for ourselves, because God knows we’ve got enough of those. Grab the nearest native if you need help figuring out where those batteries actually go. Let’s learn how to recycle the Norwegian way (i.e. actually bothering to do it).