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Why Being Sustainable Is Harder Than It Should Be - And What You Can Do About It

Why Being Sustainable is Harder Than It Should Be - and What You Can Do About It

By Audrey Alix

We all know the facts: Plastic and trash are taking over the world and not in a good way. Scientists predict that by 2050 there will be more microplastics in the ocean (Business Insider) than fish. It's a scary reality that people are beginning to understand.

Photo Courtesy of Boat International

Many of us are trying to combat this issue by doing our part: refusing straws, bringing reusable bags to the market, and choosing to recycle rather than throw in the trash. However, being sustainable beyond doing those few simple things is inconvenient for consumers because of the way stores and corporations operate.

Sustainability at Your Favorite Coffee Shop

Starbucks is a popular coffee chain where many people buy their coffee (especially students after a long night of studying). The cups there are not recyclable because of the lining on the inside of the cup, which is there to keep your drink warm. But did you know that if you bring your own mug you can save ten cents from your *expensive* drink? In a poll done with 29 Kent Place Sophomore students, 53.8% said that they didn’t know this. This seems to be one of the problems; if places aren’t advertising about the sustainability policies they have in place, people aren’t going to know about them.When the same group of people were asked the question, “do you bring a reusable mug to Starbucks?” only 21.4% bring a reusable mug sometimes, and the other 76.8% never does.

If less than half of the people knew about the policy, then why did none of these people say that they bring a reusable cup on a regular basis? When Sarah McDowell ‘19, was asked, “do you bring a reusable cup to Starbucks? If not, why?” She answered:

"No, because I need to mobile order, it makes ordering much more convenient, and the lines are too long anyway. You can't bring your own mug if you do that. But when I go to college, I will start bringing my own mug because with a Starbucks on campus, I won't have to mobile order anymore."

The problem is evident; the new technology of mobile ordering is more convenient, and therefore more people are likely to use it. 15 billion of these cups are thrown away annually (BBC), many of which will end up in the ocean, and this number will only increase until something is done. So what will the solution be? Many people say that new technology could solve many of these issues, but what if this technology makes things worse for our environment?

In order to avoid this problem, it is up to consumers to be more sustainable when going to Starbucks by bringing their own mug, even if it does mean a little extra wait in the morning (since this means that you are not able to mobile order). Or, buy coffee from local places that may have shorter waits or serve there coffee in ceramic mugs.

Plastic in Stores

Then there is a whole other issue: the completely avoidable use of plastic packaging all over the world. With many stores making it difficult to buy something that isn’t packaged in non-recyclable material, how can people be expected to live more sustainably? If you were to take a look into your refrigerator or freezer, it is very likely that you will find many products wrapped in plastic. Even the snacks you eat every day, like a granola or candy bar, are wrapped in plastic. The photo below showcases this issue: cut fruit in plastic containers for the convenience of people, when the fruit could’ve been cut by hand without all that extra waste.

Photo courtesy of The Conversation

Even though these plastic containers are ‘recyclable’, only 9% of recycled plastic is actually recycled by consumers (National Geographic), so it is unlikely that the these containers will ever be more then just plain-old trash after they are used. So, easy solution, right? Buy less products that have plastic packaging. Unfortuntaley, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Most products that people use on a daily basis (besides food products) are packaged in plastic: deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, soap, face care products, razors, period products, toothbrushes, and more. All of this packaging will all add up in a landfill, and as long as people keep buying them, people will keep selling them.

Next time you go to the store, choose to buy a whole fruit instead of one pre-cut and in plastic (pictured above), or instead of buying granola bars, buy granola from the bulk food section and make your own. The bulk food section is a section that exists in certain grocery stores such as Whole Foods, that serves as an alternative for buying packaged food (pictured below).

Photo Courtesy of Whole Foods

Although being sustainable is one reason that you should use the bulk bins, Whole Foods has a published page on their website that focuses on other benefits of shopping in this section (Whole Foods). Besides reducing waste, Whole Foods says that using the bulk bins can save you money “because you are not paying for the fancy labels,” (whole foods). You also produce less food waste because you are able to only buy what you need.

As for your other daily needs, such as shampoo, soap, and others, try buying package-free. A great option is to buy from “the package free shop” that is based in Brooklyn, NYC (Package Free Shop). You could buy in person, or from their website. The store was founded by Lauren Singer from the YouTube channel “Trash is for Tossers”, a zero waste account.

So, whether you are shopping at Whole Foods or Starbucks, make sure that you take an extra second to think about the consequences your purchase will have on the planet.

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