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Letter to the Editor by Sierra Semmel

Cans to cash: Why aren’t college students capitalizing on an opportunity for spare change?

With college back in full swing, students are facing the semester ahead of them with a backpack full of $100 textbooks, little to no income for the coming months and a new budget for the year ahead. It is a widely-known stereotype that college students are “broke,” yet there is always a portion of their budgets siphoned off for social activities. What might be the most popular of some of these social activities for college students? According to surveys by the Core Institute, partying and drinking is something 73 percent of students partake in. What if there was a way to turn this into a source of income?

There is. A brief walk around the Avenue in Orono on a Sunday morning will reveal hundreds, maybe thousands, of cans and bottles littered on the streets and the lawns. But the most baffling of all are the garbage bags filled only with cans and bottles sitting in the dumpster, all ready to be redeemed for cash.

The state of Maine, where this Sunday morning collection of cans and bottles is located, is one of 10 states in the country that has a beverage container deposit law allowing consumers to get between 5 and 15 cents back for each bottle or can returned, depending on the laws of the state and the type of container.

This being said, 77 percent of college seniors in 2016 reported that they had run out of money at some point during their college careers. So what’s the missing link? Why are college students throwing away bags of money?

A look at the reasoning behind these missed opportunities for extra cash can give us a few hints. In the state of Michigan, the only U.S. state where returnables are 10 cents, less than 6 percent of all of the containers sold (bottles and cans) are not redeemed for their 10 cent reward. That’s a 94 percent redemption rate.

Unsurprisingly, when asked, 65 percent of college students reported that they would recycle more if the deposit was 10 cents instead of 5 cents, as it is in Michigan. The next top reason is one that may contribute to the bottles and cans thrown away at the Avenue in Orono — many apartment complexes don’t provide recycling bins. Whether they’re large ones by the dumpsters or individual ones in apartments, students have nowhere to put their cans and bottles without making the extra effort.

In just glancing at these numbers, one might not notice the similarity. But if the aforementioned 59 to 65 percent of these college students started recycling more, there would be a lot more spare change in their pockets that could be spent on pizza, gas or textbooks, and the 77 percent of college students who have run out of money might become a smaller number. With the partying habits of college students and the cash that this could yield, it seems like an easy equation. These numbers are by no means to encourage alcohol consumption, but rather to encourage those who do consume it to make something out of it, and help out the environment along the way.

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