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A handful of sparkles? Not the brightest idea.

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After a long college career, graduation stands out as a pinnacle of anxiety and excitement for the class of 2018. There are a few things to check off the list before walking up on the graduation stage and claiming the long-awaited diploma, one of which is senior pictures.

While the composition some soon-to-be graduates choose for their portraits can seem harmless, it can be harmful for UA’s plant life and animal residents. 

Aside from the obligatory and overly expensive accessories that come into play for graduation, pictures at Old Main are an expected tradition.

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Students dress in stunning outfits and pose on Old Main’s steps as they look into the distance of a world of possibilities. Others pop a bottle of champagne and toss confetti up in the air as they blow a kiss goodbye to the UA.

“The confetti that is being thrown around for graduation or for pictures or whatever celebration ... it is a form of littering, I suppose,” said Sandra Dowd, UA grounds superintendent. 

According to Dowd, the UA Grounds Department deals with this form of littering every semester as students get ready to finish their college careers. 

“We do our best to clean it up, there are some areas that are easier to clean up than others,” she said. “The grass area and off the sidewalk are among the easiest.”

Difficult sites to rid the campus of the sparkling nuisance include rocky and mulched areas. According to Dowd, between 80 to 90 percent of the plastic sparkles get picked up and the rest gets washed away by water waste systems. 

Trails of clustered sparkles stretching from University Boulevard to Old Main are visible, tangled on the grass and accumulating on the asphalt. 

The wind spreads the plastic waste around campus, ending in a display of shiny pieces of plastic that soon can melt onto the pavement. Some bits have already made their way into UA’s ground soil, a process of pollution that can potentially harm plants and other organisms live on campus. 

“Confetti is classified as a microplastic, which means it is not going to degrade in the environment,” said Catherine Riedel, co-director of Students for Sustainability. “It is just going to sit until it rains and gets washed up by the water sewage, or into rivers, eventually.”

According to Riedel, Students for Sustainability has been trying to institutionalize sustainability as well as inspire other students to make better choices in keeping a healthy UA campus environment.

“Confetti is a form of pollution that is a concern for us,” Riedel said.

Aside from the dangers the microplastic can cause to the soil at UA, according to Dowd, the shiny pollutant can put wildlife in danger as well.

“Animals like birds, rodents, even lizards I believe sometimes are attracted to this and they eat it and they can’t digest plastic any better than we can and ultimately it can lead to the death of them,” Dowd said. 

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As one generation can’t wait to run on to live their new lives, another awaits a different fate due to a handful of sparkles. 

To avoid this tiny form of pollution on campus, students who are thinking of using confetti in their photos can “at least consider alternatives that are more sustainable, something that would break down,” Dowd said. 

“Since we can’t get all of it off, it would be not as much of an impact on the environment,” Dowd said.


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