Students Reconsider the Culture and Sustainability of Flyering
Have you ever been hit in the face by a sheet of paper, had your foot unexpectedly taped to the ground or completely lost sight of the flyer-blanketed path and walked straight into the lake?
By searching for alternatives to paper flyering, students at Northwestern are looking for ways to address these problems, and more.
Taping paper flyers to the ground to advertise student groups and events is a tradition on Northwestern’s campus, but some students are now working to change that. Sophomore Lindsey Jones, a member of the ASG Sustainability committee, says that the committee has been working all quarter to research just how unsustainable flyering is. They found that there are over 4,000 flyers on the ground at any given time; and, due to weather and foot-traffic, only about a third of those are legible. Many are worn loose, and float through campus, contributing to litter.
“If you hang up a flyer on a bulletin board, you probably only need one, maybe five max,” said Jones. “But then when you flyer on the ground you’re using 50 to 70 flyers every single time.”
Northwestern created flyering zones about three years ago in an attempt to cut down and regulate flyering, but Natalie Furlett, the Associate Director at the Norris Center for Student Involvement, said that they are often simply ignored.
“They have always been the rule, but they have not always been consistently enforced,” she said.
The Center for Student Involvement lists their flyering policy on their website. It specifies areas of campus that allow flyering and states that groups are responsible for removing their own flyers within five business days after their event has passed. Walking around campus, it is obvious that groups often violate these policies without punishment.
Northwestern created these policies for several reasons. Because student groups almost never clean up their own flyers, the campus must spend money to use power washers to get rid of the outdated and disintegrated flyers.
“Environmentally I just don’t think it’s a great thing. If you have that much paper and tape that needs to be power washed up, it’s a waste of water, it’s a waste of paper, it’s a waste of tape,” Furlett said. “That money could go elsewhere.”
Because of these negative effects, the ASG senate recently passed a unanimous resolution in which they pledged to stop flyering for ASG internal events. They are encouraging other groups to do the same, and are looking into finding alternative forms of advertising, such as more bulletin boards and large landmarks similar to the rock.
Beyond resource use and the environment, another reason for the campus-enforced restrictions on flyering is aesthetic, Furlett said.
“Flyering is kind of ugly,” Furlett said, referring to the worn down mess that often occurs after a flyer has been walked on for a couple of days.
Some groups disagree. Sarah Elkins, a senior at Northwestern and publicity chair of BLAST, admits that she likes seeing student artwork displayed across campus.
“I think it’s kind of cool to see the flyers, and that we get to see all the student groups that exist and that are having some really neat events,” she said.
However, she did admit that though this is a tradition that many students enjoy, more environmentally-friendly options are worth looking into.
“Every time I go and print 50 flyers to put down… I always wonder if there is a better way we can be doing this, because I feel like it is very wasteful,” she said.
Tunde Kelani, a junior at Northwestern, is working on what he hopes will be the perfect alternative. He is the head of marketing for a new project called Pvmnt, an online platform where student groups can advertise their flyers digitally. The site was originally thought up by junior Eric Brownrout, in order to preserves groups marketing artwork.
“(Eric) felt like it was a waste to put time and money into designing a flyer that was just going to be on the ground and then end up being rubbed away by foot traffic,” said Kelani. “From there it became an event discovery platform.”
The founders of Pvmnt think that the online platform will provide a simpler way for students to find events than searching the ground for details.
“A typical person walking down Sheridan who sees a flyer, even if they find it visually appealing or the event interesting, they’re not just going to pull out their phone to add it to their calendar.” Kelani explained. “We wanted to… make it so that you’re not missing stuff just because you didn’t see a flyer, and make it easier to find what you’re looking for.”
Pvmnt has been working through social media to make student groups aware of their service. In addition, they plan to release a mobile app at the beginning of winter quarter, catering to students who are too lazy or who will forget to type in a URL.
With the ASG resolution passed and new alternatives popping up, students have begun an important conversation that could soon make the litter strewn sidewalks in front of Norris a thing of the past.
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