AUSTIN, Texas, Nov. 25, 2008 -- The cool Saturday morning breeze sweeps across the backyard, making the ocean of blue Keystone Light cans ripple like gentle waves. As the wind scatters them about the lawn, the sound of emptiness resounds through the air as the aluminum cans rattle and bang together and the smell of stagnant beer lifts out of the clutter.
A group of scraggly young men with dark heavy bags under their eyes carrying black plastic trash bags are charged with the daunting task that most new fraternity members face at some point during their pledgeship: They must rid the lawn of the litter of last night's party.
"The fact of the matter is that there are going to be hundreds of cans at every party, and if they're not recycled then they are simply going to be thrown away when they could've been just as easily thrown into a recycle bin," says Scott McElroy, a new member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity at the University of Texas.
All those cans go directly into the trash can when they could just as easily be recycled, says McElroy.
Every weekend at the University of Texas, fraternities host dozens of parties that create thousands of empty aluminum cans. One campus committee, Green Greeks, is committed to making sure that those cans never see the inside of a trash can, but instead are recycled and reused.
Green Greeks is a subset of the Campus Environmental Center, an agency of Student Government that promotes education about environmental issues and seeks to reduce the University's environmental impact.
The group has fostered many programs in the past on campus, such as the Trash to Treasure move-out donation program, the Orange Bike program, and the Adopt-an-Acre program.
The Campus Environmental Center is divided into subcommittees, one of which is the litter committee, which three co-chairs head. The litter committee oversees campus clean-up efforts.
The Green Greeks are committed to raising education and awareness for environmental issues within the Greek community and, more importantly, they want to give fraternities the opportunities and resources to take an active stand in preserving the environment.
Caitlin Eberhardt, a sophomore anthropology and history major at the University, is a co-chairwoman of the litter committee and the Green Greeks committee.
"This year we really want to get more fraternities involved in the program, because it is such an important and tangible contribution that they can make," says Eberhardt. The committee has a structured plan to get the fraternity organized on the recycling goals tailored to their fraternity.
Before getting any organization involved, the group first discussed the benefits of recycling with each of the fraternity's presidents and housing managers.
Setting Up a Plan
The goals were tailored to meet the fraternity's needs and, once agreed upon, were put into a year-long contract. The Green Greeks believe that having the fraternity's officers sign the contracts would help them take the program more seriously and hold themselves accountable to follow through with their commitment.
The first organization to get involved in the Green Greeks' mission was the Kappa Alpha Fraternity.
The fraternity agreed to recycle aluminum cans after every party and the fraternity liaison was responsible for making sure that everything was carried out correctly. The liaison participated in each clean-up effort and supervised the new members as they loaded up the cans and then unloaded them at the nearest recycling center.
Once a fraternity is adequately recycling aluminum cans, the Green Greeks want to eventually move on to helping the fraternity "go green" in other ways. Making the house more energy efficient and finding strategies for reducing wastes would be long-term goals for each fraternity.
The Alpha Tau Omega fraternity, although not yet a part of the Green Greeks' program, still recycles its cans after parties.
"It is great to know that we recycle all those cans. It's also a great thing to show our new members that we care about Earth and want to give back to our community," Hardin says.
"Recycling is a great place to start when you are trying to get an organization or business to go green," says Keith Bible, waste division planner for the city of Austin Solid Waste Services. "It's one of the easiest ways to help the environment, and it's also one of the most effective and substantial ways that we can make a difference, " Bible says.
The Green Greeks are actively spreading the "going green" message on the University of Texas campus, and especially within the Greek community.
While discussing his sometimes unappealing duties as a new member, McElroy summed up his ideas about the program, saying, "I think all fraternities should recognize that something which is so commonly involved at every party can be salvaged and saved to give back to our community."