By Anisha Parida
It’s something we’ve heard our whole lives: the environment is suffering and the planet needs our help. Species that have been on this earth for thousands of years are becoming extinct; their homes are being destroyed and replaced with new factories that emit harmful pollution. As these harsh environmental conditions increasingly affect our daily lives–for example, air pollution kills about 7 million people per year–young influencers like Greta Thunberg and Jaden Smith have started to realize that helping our planet should be a top priority for everyone. As more and more young people began to vocalize their opinions and make a difference, the more inspired us high schoolers are to try and change our current environmental situation.
Often, it’s hard for us as students to feel like we can actually do anything about these issues. How can a bunch of teenagers help save and protect our environment? Well, it may not be as difficult a task as we think. There are many ways you, as an individual, can help with environmental problems and effect positive change in the future. As we continue to grow into young adults, it will become our responsibility to take care of the planet; if we start with efforts now, we may look forward to positive changes in the future.
The first way we can help is to stop using non-recyclable plastic. For example, something that applies to a lot of us: k-cups. While Keurig machines grow increasingly popular, with about 20 million homes in America owning this convenient and fairly inexpensive machine, the effects k-cups have on the environment are staggering. Green Mountain, a popular k-cup brand, sold over 9 billion cups in the past year. If you combine that with the hundreds of other brands selling k-cups, it really makes you wonder how buying so many boxes of coffee pods affects our environment. Well, unfortunately, what many of these coffee-loving consumers do not know is that k-cups are non-recyclable and will continue to cause more damage to the environment than anyone has anticipated. Most k-cups end up being wasted in landfills and are continuing to add to the amount of plastic waste in the world. In addition to such a detrimental effect on the environment, buying k-cups can be both expensive and are arguably a waste of money. Coffee pods cost about four times more than regular coffee grounds, which can add up fairly quickly depending on how often fast you go through coffee. While Keurig has announced that by the end of 2020, they will be making recyclable k-cups, until then, consider putting off the pods and helping in the efforts to save our planet.
Something else you can do in order to help reduce waste on our planet is to limit gum usage. Only about 20 percent of gum in the world is properly disposed of, making it the second most common form of litter behind cigarette butts. Collectively, gum contributes an estimated 250 tons of waste each year-it is made from synthetic polymers and is not biodegradable, causing more harm and pollution than you would think. Places like great Britain have taken the initiative of creating recycle bins specific to gum: gumdrop bins. Perhaps you will be inspired to start your community’s own recycling gum initiative.
If you often enjoy driving through the Dunkin’ or Starbucks coffee lines, then you should know that these companies are working to help motivate people to save the planet as well. Discounts are offered from these stores, as well as others, when you bring your own mug or cup rather than buying their single-use plastic. So, consider investing in a reusable mug- the savings can add up fairly quickly. While you’re at it, don’t just limit yourself to reusable mugs. Stores like Whole Foods and Target offer discounts when you bring your own reusable grocery bags, so there is no need to continually use plastic bags that end up hurting our environment. Being able to save money while also working to save our planet seems like a double win for our future.
Next: consider altering your diet by decreasing the amount of meat or dairy you consume. While this is reasonably a difficult diet to follow, be mindful of how it could help our planet. If we reduce the amount of animals or animal products we consume, greenhouse gas emissions, water depletion, and pollution—all large consequences of livestock production—would decrease. It is understandable that going vegetarian or vegan is a difficult lifestyle to acquire and for some individuals it is simply not feasible, whether this is due to a financial deficit or personal reasons. There are, however, still plenty of other things you can do to help save our planet which include the reduction of food waste.
As the holidays are coming to an end, there are likely leftovers sitting in your fridge at home. What many individuals don’t know is that food waste doesn’t just affect people, but also the environment. When we waste food, it can end up in landfills where it rots, producing dangerous greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from food waste, which is a significant number that can be decreased if we all worked to limit food waste in our own lives. So, next time you have guests over or throw a party, consider the quantity of food and how you can use leftovers for future meals to come. Also, if you have a cupboard in your kitchen filled with canned goods that you know you won’t use, consider donating to world hunger organizations; hundreds of millions of people suffer from world hunger, and if we are able to both eliminate food waste and give that food to those in need, then society would be much better off.
Lastly, while this can be very difficult, consider decreasing car usage. Yes, for us high schoolers who are new drivers, we are eager to take on the road any chance we get, but decreasing car usage has more than just one benefit: If we regulate how often we use cars, greenhouse gas emissions will also decrease; and considering that, in the United States, 28.9 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from car usage, scaling down seems to be very necessary. In addition to helping decrease greenhouse gas emissions, alternative transportation has benefits. For example, if instead of driving to work every day, you opt to ride your bike, you are both saving the environment and staying in shape. Perhaps maybe you live a little too far away to ride your bike to the predetermined destination. In that case, carpooling with friends and public transportation are great and efficient options (plus, you can make a lot more friends riding the bus than driving alone).
It’s easy to get overwhelmed or caught up in all the damage in the world that we fail to see how far we’ve come. Our current environmental situation, however, is not a complete loss. For example, we’ve come a long way from air quality after the passing of the Clean Air Act in 1970. Even from 2010, mortality rates associated with health problems as a result of poor air quality have decreased 60 percent. Students are the future, and we have the power to change the world. As future CEOs, politicians, and voters, we will make decisions that affect our environment in great capacities. So take some sort of initiative, regardless of how big or small, to help our environment. It may not seem like it now, but our efforts will prove to be worthwhile if we all work together to save our planet.