By Gabrielle Rente
We have 12 years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions before temperatures rise and cause irreversible damage to our environment. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report in October 2018 analyzing the impact if the planet’s temperatures were to increase by 1.5 degrees Celsius, causing basic survival to be more difficult to achieve.
Since its release, the public has become reinvigorated to act. In celebration of Earth Day, rapper and comedian Lil Dicky, in collaboration with over a dozen celebrities, released a music video called “Earth,” which supports actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s foundation for environmental conservation and awareness.
In May, Bill Nye guest starred on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and heatedly told viewers that the planet was on fire.
Add in criticism of the Green New Deal pushed by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) along with viral photos of albatross birds feeding their young trash, and we get people looking for a solution.
Around halfway through my junior year, I discovered the Zero Waste movement, a philosophy that focuses on producing as little trash as possible by reducing consumption of materials and reusing resources. If we send less trash to landfills, then it produces less greenhouse gases and reduces the likeliness of litter ending up elsewhere. Sounds nice, right?
So instead of buying a plastic toothbrush from Walgreens, I bought a bamboo toothbrush. When I ran out of lotion, I looked up how to make my own lotion bars on Pinterest. In fact, I credit this social media platform, along with Instagram, for my obsession with Zero Waste and the trendy aesthetic that came attached. The more I researched, the more my feed flooded with pictures of pristine, bulk-provided pantries and beeswax food wraps. The pressure was on to be the perfect environmentalist.
But we are not perfect people. As I observed when grocery shopping under this new philosophy, it is nearly impossible to avoid plastic. It packages our food, composes the fabric of our clothing, and even encases our prescriptions. We have found a use for plastic in nearly everything. Mistakes are bound to happen; however, the way social media depicts the movement instills an unhealthy notion of perfection.
First off, the movement itself works better with many people trying their best, not with someone being flawless at it. If I absentmindedly use a straw at a restaurant, then I cannot beat myself up over it and give up. I can only try to be more mindful in the future.
Another critique I have is that the representation within the movement is limited to white, wealthy women. Women feel more societal pressure to have control over the domestic, and many plastic products are marketed to women. Also, it costs more to be earth-friendly, thus the movement excludes those of lower financial status, such as college students.
I had quickly realized what an immediate financial burden it was to go out and buy all these “eco-friendly” products, so I decided I would only buy what I ran out of as time passed. While it is expensive up front, many product alternatives save you money in the long run.
Another obstacle I faced is that it is also difficult to grocery shop under the Zero Waste philosophy because Chestertown does not have bulk stores. The movement also excludes those living in a rural location.
What I advise to those looking to change their lifestyle to help Mother Earth is to do what you can. Do not try to push yourself to be “perfect” and toss out your plastic possessions. If the plastic items you have are still usable, then use them until you cannot. This is the basic form of resourcefulness; use what you have and use it wisely.
Despite the roadblocks, I still managed to make a few changes. For starters, I began composting and taking it to the campus garden. For food, I have stuck to using the Dining Hall because they are technically a bulk supplier, but occasionally I will check out the farmer’s market and local businesses. This practice as a consumer supports a circular economy system where we recycle and reuse rather than a linear one where we produce, use, and dispose of resources.
The fashion industry is also harmful to the environment and to its workers; however, companies that are ethical in practice are expensive for the college budget, so I do most of my clothes shopping at thrift stores. I love finding unique pieces and giving another life to items while also saving money. When I go shopping, I practice mindfulness and ask myself, “Do I need this or is there a better alternative?” When I reach a more financially stable period of my life, then I will gladly support ethical clothing companies and brands.
In the meantime, I will continue bringing my own bags to stores, picking up after litterers, and voting for those who want to protect the planet.
If you are interested in learning more about the movement or how to be more environmentally conscious, I recommend reading the blog Going Zero Waste by Kathryn Kellogg at https://www.goingzerowaste.com/blog/ and checking out the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation at https://www.leonardodicaprio.org.