Plastic Free July

Jasmin Rostamnezhad, Austin Community College’s Sustainability Coordinator, is interviewed by ACCENT’s Editor-In-Chief, Pete Ramirez.

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 being 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 it’s 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, who 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. 


Anne Cuzeau, sustainability steward at ACC’s Energy & Sustainability department, speaks to Pete Ramirez, ACCENT’s Editor-In-Chief.

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 green@austincc.edu.

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 who are making 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.”

Restoring Our Earth in a Week

At ACC, we don’t just celebrate Earth Day, but rather Earth week. The college will be hosting their annual Earth Week events virtually for the second year in a row due to the pandemic.

By: Zeus Enloe

Hollie Sampson Student Leader

This year, there are over 50 videos and activities for students to choose from to learn the ins and outs of sustainability. Events will kick off  on April 19, students have the option to attend a variety of virtual events held by ACC and other organizations in our community. These events include trivia games, recycled crafts, and more. There are also resources for students to learn more about sustainable practices in their personal time. To learn more, ACCENT spoke with several staff members and students involved in ACC’s sustainability initiatives as well as the Earth Week festivities.

At ACC, Earth Week events are organized by the Office of Sustainability. Additionally, each ACC campus is home to its own Green Team. The Green Teams are collaborative student and faculty groups working towards the goal of increasing sustainability on our ACC campuses. 

Carol Knight, ACC’s administrative assistant and Green Team coordinator for the Cypress Creek Campus, explains Earth Day as “a way to draw attention to things that directly affect and influence you know ones daily lifestyle and choices.”

 This was echoed by Andy Kim, the energy & sustainability director, when asked why ACC students should even care about Earth Day to begin with. 

“Everything we do in our daily lives affects our environment, no matter how trivial it is,” Kim says.

Throughout the entire week, students will be given ideas on how to incorporate eco-friendly practices into their daily lives such as creating a DIY home garden, learning how to cook vegetarian dishes, or take on challenges that reduce electricity usage in their homes. Activities are open to students with any level of knowledge about sustainability. 

[F]or those that don’t necessarily know much about sustainability, Earth Day/Week is an opportunity to learn about and get involved in sustainability at ACC and at home. It is a time for us all to shout from the rooftops how important it is to live a sustainable lifestyle and how easy it is to do so,” Jasmin Rostamnezhad, ACC’s sustainability coordinator, says.

Student leaders Celeste Mills and Holli Sampson agreed, telling ACCENT that we should work towards sustainability every day, and Earth Week is a way to remind us of this. 

Mills advised, “We need help to make companies accountable and make it possible for everyone to live a sustainable life.”

Mills will be hosting an Earth Week book club featuring “Kleptopia: How Dirty Money Is Conquering the World” by Tom Burgis as well as “The Uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells. 

Sampson  organized a trash pickup for students to partake in on April 25. Students can find a space in their local community that needs to be cleaned and will receive a voucher for a free slice of pizza from Toss Pizzeria for their efforts. Students can walk around and pick up trash, even if they’re only going on a 15 minute walk with their dog.

 “[It’s] Such an easy way to get things done and it feels good,” Sampson says.

Something new to Earth Week this year are the Energy and Sustainability Office’s meetups. The meetups will be recurring throughout the week and will allow students the opportunity to connect with the sustainability staff and learn more about ACC’s green initiatives. 

“Sustainability touches on just about everything and anything we do,” Kim says. “[It’s] Not just one day. We need to think about our limited resources.”

After Earth Week ends, students are still encouraged to continue practicing the tools and resources learned from these events. Knight suggested that students “find one thing” that they care about and find a way to connect it with Earth Day.

 “[There is] always something more to learn that I can do that can help minimize the things that are bad for the planet,” she says. “For example, a student that enjoys cooking can look into green cooking and container gardening. 

There are also events hosted by organizations outside of ACC. Both Kim and Knight suggested that students look into the nonprofit organization called Keep Austin Beautiful.  Rostamnezhad suggested getting involved with a nonprofit called EartShare of Texas and their daily eco-friendly challenges for the month of April.

“ [I] would encourage everyone to participate in the #MyEarthMyTexas Challenge April 1 – 30, 2021. This challenge will show you easy ways to reduce your environmental footprint at home and you get prizes for it!” Rostamnezhad said.

Earth Day celebrations are not only beneficial to our planet and community, but can also lead to great memories. For Kim this was when he was challenged to make wearable items out of reused objects. Something that still sticks with Kim is how one person apparently made a hat out of kitty litter packaging. For Knight, this was the many projects that have been implemented at the Cypress Creek campus, such as the butterfly garden.  Students can make their own memories this year, whether they are interested in gardening, sustainable cooking, trash pick-ups, or even informational presentations. Get involved, get educated, and make a difference. Find the full list of Earth Week events here.

Understanding Cruelty Free Labels

Can you Trust just Any Bunny?

Written and photo by Alexa Smith

Going cruelty free in cosmetics is a great way to begin living a more sustainable lifestyle. However,  while it seems like an easy step to take, understanding different cruelty free labels can be difficult. Since the FDA does not regulate what constitutes as cruelty free, companies are free to make claims that may or may not be substantiated. Even independent accreditation such as PETA and Leaping Bunny have their own issues that make the “best” accreditation a hotly debated topic in the cruelty free community. If you’re looking to get truly committed to cruelty free it takes a little more work than simply looking for any old picture of a bunny. Here are a few different things to look out for when shopping cruelty free. 

“Cruelty Free” / “Not Tested on Animals”
As mentioned before, as there is no legal definition in the US of “cruelty free” or “not tested on animals” these phrases are not verified by the FDA. Since there is no regulation on these phrases, companies are free to use them however they please. They may not currently test the final product on animals but still buy from manufacturers that test on animals. They could also be using these claims while still testing on animals – there’s no way to be sure other than investigating the company itself. 

While these words themselves are not regulated by the FDA – that doesn’t mean the products with these phrases are not cruelty free or even unaccredited. Organizations such as PETA and The Leaping Bunny often charge more to license their logo and use it on products. So companies may be registered with the organization as cruelty free but not display the logo. This is where doing your own research comes in handy. 

I took a look at some of my products and found that a hair product I use from LUS (side note: great for curly hair!) has a simple claim of “No Animal Testing” which I wasn’t very convinced by. However, when I looked into their website I found that they are actually certified cruelty free by Leaping Bunny. So, if you have a current product you love with no bunny on it – don’t throw it out just yet! Do some research into the brand and company to find out more info on it. 

The Leaping Bunny Program
The Leaping Bunny label is one of the biggest names when looking for cruelty free products. It is often mentioned as one of the most reputable certifications because it is the only one that conducts audits of the companies it accredits. Their website states, “All Leaping Bunny companies must be open to independent audits” so it is not clear if they audit every company on their list. However, they are the only organization that requires companies to agree to a written statement and an audit. Leaping Bunny also requires that companies confirm with suppliers that they are not tested on animals. However, they do still accredit brands that are owned by companies that test on animals. When a brand is owned by a company that tests on animals, Leaping Bunny notes this in their Compassionate Shopping Guide

PETA’s Beauty without Bunnies
PETA’s cruelty free accreditation is considered lesser by cruelty free bloggers such as Cruelty Free Kitty and Ethical Elephant. In the linked article for Cruelty Free Kitty, the author Suzana Rose, found that one of the brands on PETA’s cruelty free list was not able to confirm if their suppliers were also cruelty free. So, unlike The Leaping Bunny Program, PETA does not confirm if brands are using cruelty free suppliers. You’ll notice PETA’s list is longer because of this. PETA also does not conduct any audits of these companies. All companies must do to be accredited by PETA is sign a statement of assurance and fill out a questionnaire. PETA argues that this method works since the statement is legally binding and they believe the threat of a public relations disaster encourages companies to tell the truth about their testing practices.

Choose Cruelty Free
Choose Cruelty Free (CCF) is a much smaller organization than PETA and Leaping Bunny. If you look on their About Section of their website you’ll find they only have two paid staff members and consist mostly of volunteers. This being said – they do not have the resources to audit their accredited brands as Leaping Bunny does. In this way they are similar to PETA since they only require a brand to sign a legally binding contract. However, what makes CCF different from PETA and Leaping Bunny is that they are the only organization that does not certify brands own by parent companies who test on animals. They also require brands to provide written verification from the brand’s suppliers that they do not test on animals.

So…what’s the best option? 

At the end of the day, the best option is to conduct your own research on brands and decide for yourself which accreditations you feel comfortable with. There is no right or wrong answer as all of these have their own pros and cons. The most important thing is to stay informed and understand what exactly each certification means.