By Pete Ramirez
Take a look around you. How many items in your vicinity are made from plastic?
With a quick scan around my room, I can count at least twenty things that have some sort of plastic used in the product. I’m sure your number is nearly the same, if not, more.
Plastics have infiltrated almost every aspect of our lives. They are so ubiquitous that it’s hard for me to imagine a world without them.
Our global obsession with the low-cost and convenience of plastics has come with a hefty price to our environment.
You’ve seen these images of huge, floating garbage patches in the ocean. Next time you go to a beach or to the Greenbelt, take a good look around and you’ll find plastic waste throughout the most popular locations.
For those of you who are tired of the abuse we are inflicting on the Earth, Plastic Free July is a perfect opportunity for you to commit yourself to be more conscious about your plastic consumption and adopt new habits that decrease your use of plastic altogether.
Jasmin Rostamnezhad, Austin Community College’s Sustainability Coordinator, said that Plastic Free July is an “educational opportunity to bring this issue of plastic pollution to the forefront of people’s minds.”
The month-long event gives people the opportunity to take on the challenge of decreasing their plastic consumption or eliminating plastic from their lives entirely.
“It’s not about telling people, ‘Don’t consume plastic for the whole month’ and then don’t think about it,” Anne Cuzeau, a computer science major and sustainability steward at ACC’s Energy & Sustainability department, said. “It’s more about having a really big global conversation about plastic and how we can address this crisis.”
“[ACC] is always trying to come up with ways to do Plastic Free July all year long,” Rostamnezhad said.
In 2020, ACC officially became a styrofoam-free campus, Rostamnezhad said. This means ACC does not purchase products with styrofoam packaging. If a product arrives with styrofoam, the energy & sustainability department will reach out and notify the vendor that the school needs their products packaged differently.
As many of us now know, recycling is not all it’s cracked up to be. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, less than 10% of plastics actually find a repurposed life as a new container, the majority of the remaining 90% is usually buried in the ground at a landfill.
The folks at ACC’s Energy & Sustainability Department have long recognized this and have taken concrete steps to embrace composting throughout its campuses. It’s not hard to locate a compost bin when at an ACC location.
Not only is plastic harming the environment and its biodiversity, it’s also harming the health of human beings.
“Plastic is made through the oil industry and the chemicals that are within the plastic can leach into the foods that you are eating from packaging or can leach into the foods that you heat up in the microwave,” Rostamnezhad said. “Those include a lot of cancer-causing chemicals so you’re basically ingesting the plastic which is really bad for your health.”
In addition to the chemicals plastics can leach, microplastics, which are microscopic particles of plastic less than 5 millimeters, are another way plastics end up in our bodies, Rostamnezhad said.
“The average human eats a credit card of plastic a week,” Rostamnezhad said. The study by the University of Newcastle in Australia, which first made this assertion, says that most microplastics are ingested by humans via tap and bottled water.
In an effort to reduce her plastic consumption, Holli Sampson, a sophomore geology major at ACC, said that she implements creative ways to repurpose her plastic containers to organize and store her school supplies, spices, and makeup.
“It becomes a fun game to see how you can reuse an item instead of sending it on its way to somewhere you’re not sure of,” Sampson said. “Also, it saves you money!”
Rostamnezhad is currently working on an educational flyer that explains exactly what steps people should take in order to reduce plastic waste in their personal lives.
A few simple tips shared by Rostamnezhad, Cuzeau and Sampson are:
- Consider carrying a pouch full of compostable utensils and straws in your car so you won’t need to accept single-use plastics when you pick up food from a restaurant.
- Contrary to common belief, the city of Austin does not recycle plastic bags. Instead, take your plastic bags to your local grocery store and they will recycle the bags for you. Go to this website to find the nearest participating grocery store.
- Buy reusable water bottles and containers that bring you joy so you are more likely to continue to use them.
“At the end of the day, just do your best,” Cuzeau said.
If you have any questions or ideas you would like to send to ACC’s Energy & Sustainability department, email them at [email protected].
The Energy & Sustainability Department is also working with the purchasing department at ACC to develop training and rules to limit and eventually eliminate the purchasing of single-use plastic.
All three of the women interviewed for this piece brought up a common issue of pushing back against large companies that are the main culprits of plastic creation and waste.
“How can we get the big corporations who are putting these plastics out for us to consume to scale back?” Cuzeau said. “Clearly, this is not going to come from them. It’s going to come from the bottom up.”
“I don’t think we’ll be able to make a difference until we start holding companies accountable,” Rostemnezhad said. “They need to start innovating and coming up with ideas on how to change packaging and change their products.”
We all have the power to change these corporations and that starts in our wallets and where we choose to spend our money. Look to spend your money with businesses that are taking steps to reduce and eliminate their plastic consumption.
“Plastic Free July is great,” Sampson said. “It’s a start, but we should all work together to become a plastic-free society as much as we can.”