December 20, 2019
Lately, not a day that goes by where I don’t think about what I’m doing and how it impacts the environment. I took a class vaguely related to sustainability my Junior year of college, and it’s been almost a year and I still haven’t been able to shake some of the statistics.
One of the most common arguments I hear about this topic is that people want to be more environmentally conscious, but they’re wary of it being an expensive endeavor. As a college student, this is completely understandable. Changing the way we’ve lived our lives for so long sounds expensive and intimidating. But after some research on habits and brands that could easily be changed at little to no cost, the idea of being a low-budget, environmentally conscious person doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
One of the simplest ways to do this is to invest in reusable bags. According to the Earth Day Network, world plastics production totaled around 335 million metric tons in 2016. Much of this was due to single-use-plastic grocery bags, Ziploc bags, plastic bottles, etc. Reusable grocery bags often cost under $5.00 each. They are often made of nylon and canvas, meaning the bags don’t typically rip like the plastic ones do. Reusable bags are usually much larger than a plastic grocery bag, so people can fit more into each one and don’t need to purchase so many. They’re a no-brainer for some—the hardest part is just remembering to bring them into the grocery store. But still, some are even made to fit onto a keychain to avoid running into that issue. Grocery stores that sell reusable bags often sell reusable produce bags and freezer bags as well. These products are often under $10.00, and the long term effects of an individual cutting out single-use plastic products is worth the short-term cost.
With the holidays coming up, one of the most wasteful traditions that goes left unconsidered is gift wrap. This is single-use as well, and almost all of it is thrown away. One of the best ways to be cost-free and eco-friendly is simply to reuse a gift bag you’ve received something in already. But if you’ve run out of old gift bags and are searching for some gift wrap that doesn’t contribute to the millions of pounds of waste produced on Christmas Day, Little Kay Gardens makes a gift wrap that’s made from 100% recycled paper embedded with hundreds of different wildflower seeds. The intention is for someone to plant it in a garden after it’s been used, and the paper will decompose and the flowers will bloom. One pack sells for about $12.00, and comes with 4 large 24” x 36” sheets. They could last for many holidays, Birthdays, or showers to come.
In 2014, Johnson & Johnson released a video showing how more than 552 million shampoo bottles end up in landfills every year, and the number of shampoo bottles thrown out in the United States every year is enough to fill 1,164 football fields. While recycling plastics like shampoo bottles can be helpful, a lot of the time recycling isn’t the best solution. Even a recycled shampoo bottle often ends up being downcycled into a lower quality product, like plastic wrap that gets thrown away eventually. The better solution would be to invest in hygiene products with no packaging at all. Lush is a cruelty free, ethical buying, 100% vegetarian beauty company that sells tons of handmade products including shampoo and conditioner bars. These concentrated, puck-size bars can actually outlast about three bottles of liquid shampoo, lasting about 80 washes. These bars cost under $12.00, making them the same price, if not cheaper than liquid shampoo. Their products create very little waste—in fact, 35% of their products are sold “naked,” with no waste at all. And with products like lotions or face masks, clean packaging can be taken back to the closest store to be reused.
Ultimately, there are so many things people can do as an individual to limit individual waste for little to no cost. For most, it just has to be a change of habit. There’s no pressure to always be perfectly sustainable, but if lots of people do their research and learn about ways to change their everyday habits slightly, then they can enact massive change. So do research: Look into sustainable clothing companies, create a compost bin, and learn where recycling is really going. Use reusable water bottles and coffee mugs, purchase fair trade certified food products, try out reusable makeup wipes. Protesting in support of climate change awareness is virtually costless. Buy local. Carpool and split gas. Bring a plate and silverware instead of using disposable utensils. For everything that is detrimental to the environment, there is likely a far less harmful alternative. The options are endless, and very affordable.
Leah Wright is a senior studying Professional Writing and English with a concentration in creative writing. She is pursuing a career in editing and publishing, but hopes to eventually become a published novelist. When she isn’t in class, she can most likely be found on the field with the Spartan Marching Band Color Guard, or rehearsing with an independent winter guard that competes around the country.