Movement to recycle not enough; first reduce, reuse


Environmental Fridays

Kelly Walker

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the most well-known movement to combat the world’s waste problem: the fight against plastic straws.  From the momentum of the viral 2015 graphic video of a marine biologist pulling a plastic straw out of a sea turtle’s nose, the movement was born.  Now we’re seeing “plant-based compostable” straws in restaurants and reusable steel straws that you can carry with you.  

But is this enough?

Straws are certainly not the only plastic product that we produce with the intention of using once and then throwing away. The key problem with a single-use plastic norm is that plastic never degrades. The very first plastics created are still somewhere on the planet, and they’ve most likely made their way to the ocean.  

Our trash is constantly washed into the oceans through our waterways where they can cause serious harm to the wildlife and to us. The world is faced with the powerful images of sea turtles stuck in six-pack rings and birds wrapped in plastic bags, yet we often forget about the invisible threat to both wildlife and humans: microplastics.

Instead of degrading, plastic is eroded into smaller and smaller pieces until they are classified as “microplastics”, which are nearly impossible to remove from the ocean. Scientists have already been finding microplastics in birds, whales and fish, but now the inevitable has been confirmed: humans have been added to that list.  

So, what can we do as college students to combat this massive problem?

We must stop prioritizing “recycle” over the other two of the famous trio, “reuse” and “reduce.”  We must first reduce our waste, then reuse then recycle.

Here are 3 easy ways to reduce:

1. Carry a reusable water bottle with you and ditch the single-use plastic ones. (Tip: opt for a stainless steel, aluminum or glass bottle which can all be completely recycled as opposed to a plastic reusable bottle.)

2. Actually use the reusable grocery bags and say no to the plastic ones. (Tip: Always keep them in your car.  If you forget to bring them inside, load your groceries in your cart at the self-checkout without bags, wheel it up to your car, and bag your groceries there.)

3. Slow down and enjoy your cup of coffee for here, or if you are constantly on the go, invest in a nice travel coffee mug. (Tip: Starbucks gives a 10-cent discount to those who bring their own cup or tumbler regardless of the brand, and local coffee shops have always accepted my reusable cup with a smile).

The small changes you can make in your daily life don’t stop here, but this is a great start.  If you’d like to learn more about tips and tricks for reducing your waste, check out this amazing blog that provides ideas for everything you can think of from bulk grocery shopping to the safety razor. Every small change that we make in our busy college lives can serve as an example to others and can truly make a difference in the long run.