Reducing Environmental Impact: Let’s Shift Our Focus


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Ever since I watched WALL-E, I've been thinking about trash. What an incredible movie with a powerful message for humanity about reducing environmental impact. I was just entering college, at that age where I was beginning to fully appreciate that the other human beings in the background of my life come with their own set of hopes, dreams, and problems. I was reluctantly learning that I was, surprisingly, not the center of the universe. And that actions all have consequences. In retrospect, perhaps I was a late bloomer there. 😅

The thing with trash, though, is that it's easy to ignore. So it's not like I watched WALL-E and suddenly reached enlightenment, swore off plastic straws and single-use cutlery, and dug a compost pile outside my dorm in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, I didn't have that sense of urgency. Rather, the ominous message – the warning – that Pixar so beautifully packaged up for both kids and adults was left to sink in very gradually, over the course of several years.

and what a message it was

See (spoilers), WALL-E depicts a planet covered in trash, with broken refrigerators and ratted couches piled hundreds of stories high, stretching up higher than skyscrapers. A single obsolete but inherently kind robot roams the Earth, attempting to clear the astronomical mess created by those who have long since fled to live a complacent, consumeristic life amidst the safety of space, leaving the problems to our loyal robot servants. 😔

Watching this movie as a young adult, the dire situation seemed so far from the realm of possibility. It was closer to fantasy, and yes, easy to ignore. At that age, it's hard to fathom how throwing away one plastic-lined ice cream cup perpetuates a system that has lasting impacts on the environment around you. Even more incomprehensible is how your actions will ultimately affect you, your loved ones, and the entire ecosystem and planet on which we reside. And for that reason, I didn't think much after watching WALL-E except, "Wow, cute robot, also the future is going to be whack."

the future is now, and we have the power to shape it

As the years passed, I became more aware of myself and how I move through this world. I thought back to that movie and realized that the situation is not so far off. If we aren't careful, our descendants could very easily find themselves scrambling to escape the earth. 😰 I just turned 27 recently, and I'm just starting (again, late bloomer) to really think about how I want to contribute to this world. More importantly, I'm thinking about what lasting impacts I want my actions to have on this planet, and the humans and animals with which I share it. 🌍

Like I said, trash is easy to ignore — especially if you, like me, live in an environment that offers curbside trash collection. Most apartments that I know of charge a flat fee for trash service or nothing at all. I think it's easy to take this for granted, but if you really think about it, how incredible is it that we organized such a painless system to haul our trash from our homes on a weekly basis? And many of us don't even pay by the amount of trash we package up and send off to landfills. Sending three trash bags costs the same as sending one. For many of us, generating trash is not an inconvenience.

consider this: companies make money by marketing trash to us

That'll probably become a post of its own at some point. 😇 But literally, it is wild that we even spend money on things that are meant to be used once or handful of times. Once I realized this simple fact, it became much easier to curb my overall shopping addiction and think twice about buying single-use items. I can only guess at the history; can you imagine that boardroom meeting? Hey, fellas — instead of making quality products that last a lifetime, let's make disposableproducts! That way, the good American people will inevitably buy more, and you can collect their money infinitely! Disposable cups, napkins, packaged foods, cheap clothing born of fast fashion, smartphones that supposedly last 3 years max — you get the idea.

Basically, our whole society participates in the act of producing trash, directly or indirectly. I'm no exception. It's just too easy to toss something in a bin and forget about it. It's not only convenient to generate trash; at times, it's inconvenient to not generate trash. And once they cart it away, it's not our responsibility anymore. We can believe whatever we want. We can believe that our trash vanishes into thin air. It's a whole lot easier than realizing the truth.

our trash-generating habits are not really our fault, but still ours to break

Paper cups were invented in 1907, paper towels for home kitchen use appeared in 1931, and plastics were just starting to become popular in the 1960s[efn_note]Frinkel, S. 2011 May 29. "A Brief History of Plastic's Conquest of the World." Scientific American. Retrieved from[/efn_note]. Fast forward to today, and a lot of our daily routines and habits involve generating waste. That's just the way it is. By the time we got to my generation, disposable plastic culture was in full swing. We had these habits instilled from birth, right down to our disposable diapers and plastic pacifiers. I don't want to blame society, but I hypothesize that my early exposure to colorful commercials in childhood is associated with my consumeristic urges today. But there's no sense dwelling on how we got here; we need to dedicate our energy to focusing on how to fix it.

Here are three disturbing facts we need to get right:

  1. The United States generates the most trash in the world. In 2015 alone, we racked up over 260 million TONS of waste. let's get to work

Yes we're all busy, but it's time to prioritize reducing our impact in a way that works for us. I've only been on this low-consumption, low-waste journey for a year, and I'm nowhere near where I want to be. Seeing all the zero-wasters with their perfect blogs and insta stories can be overwhelming and make you think that you need to spend a lot of money on stainless steel straws in order to start helping. But that's not true. In fact, I think if you do this optimally, you'll save money (post coming soon). And you definitely shouldn't try to go zero-waste in a day; one thing I've learned is that it's a huge process trying to unlearn waste-generating habits. This blog will be a safe space for all beginners and experts alike to share their tips and support each other.

I don't think it's practical to strive for completely zero-waste — at least not at first. First, focus on doing what you can towards reducing your environmental impact. In order to work, this movement needs many people doing a little, not just a few people doing a lot. It's a process, but if we commit to putting our best efforts forward and simply doing what we can, our actions will inspire others to do the same.

Be sure to check out my Quick-Start Guide if you need a little direction first! And let me know about your own journey in the comments below! ~ ❤️

if you know you grow

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