Red Cup Project draws attention to party culture, sustainability at SU

The solo cups that form the installations are made of a plastic that is not recyclable in Syracuse.

Structures built out of red solo cups appeared in different forms around campus this week, calling awareness to the party culture at Syracuse University and related issues of sustainability.

The solo cup installations are part of the Red Cup Project, a group project for the architecture class ARC 500: Politics of Public Space. The class is taught by associate professor Lori Brown. Three SU architecture students and one student from State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry run the project.  

Photo: Courtesy of Leslie Baz
Members of the Red Cup Project displayed boxes of solo cups in front of Bowne Hall on Tuesday.

Kathryn Chesebrough, one of the group members, said she came up with the idea when she and her group members saw red solo cups on the ground in neighborhood surrounding Euclid Avenue. The landscape architecture senior at ESF said red solo cups are made of No. 6 polystyrene, a plastic that is not recyclable in Syracuse. She didn’t know the recyclability of No. 6 plastic until she took the architecture course, she said.

“It’s part of a bigger discussion to think about how we think about our streets and think about what happens after something is used. Where does it go?” Chesebrough said.

The group collected about 2,000 cups on Sunday mornings in the course of three weekends in the university neighborhood. “Everything we picked up is just on the ground,” Chesebrough said.

Leslie Baz, an architecture senior who is in charge of most social media activities of the project, said the group started with a flattened bridge-like structure at the intersection of Ackerman and Euclid avenues on Sunday. They spread out to the intersection of Comstock and Euclid avenues on Monday for the second version, which took about 30 minutes to construct.

DPS showed up on Monday and told them there were complaints from drivers and residents, Baz said, so the group took the cups from the crosswalk to leave it open. The interaction between the group and DPS was friendly, she added, noting that DPS thought it was an interesting project too.

Baz said they displayed different structures of cups on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday because they wanted to address three different audiences. “For the first one on Euclid, it was more a statement about party culture, and we wanted to get to the students,” Baz said. “The second version, which was more close to campus was sort of addressing the administration a little bit such as faculty and DPS. 

Baz said they displayed boxes of red solo cups on Tuesday in front of Bowne Hall. The group planned to drive the cups on Saturday to Tompkins County Solid Waste Division near Ithaca, where the cups can be recycled.

Vinh Van Vo, an architecture senior, designed the red solo cup structures. Vo said some students felt confused about the installation, but they got mostly positive reactions. “Most people were extremely engaging with the project, almost all saying this was a great conversation starter for topics that centered on partying at SU, littering, waste, and just plain old awareness to a steadily increasing recycling culture here in Syracuse,” Vo said.

A few student organizations such as Students of Sustainability and MyActions are now discussing expanding the Red Cup Project, Vo said. 

“Ideas are all up in the air right now, but we do know for certain that the Red Cup Project really woke people up in Syracuse,” Vo said. “We woke them all up for all the right reasons, and it wasn't because we partied until early morning.”

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