Sustainability Chronicles – Say No to Single-Use Plastics

Every now and then I’ll feel overwhelmed by the amount of waste humans create. I often find it difficult to separate my understanding of the situation our world is facing, from how sad it makes me to know it could be prevented. Since I want to use this knowledge and passion to fix problems, I have to walk a fine line between being unbearably pro-environment and being in denial about our circumstances. I cannot expect everyone to care about this topic nearly as much as I do, but I can translate my concerns into simple steps toward sustainability.

This outlook is what has made me start thinking about basic actions I take without a second thought and writing about them on this blog. I also recently had a run-in with an unfortunate amount of refuse (a mix of plastics, cans, and food) I had to find a way to dispose of. During this dismal escapade, I became acutely aware of the challenges that came along with properly doing this due to the recycling infrastructure near me as well as a general perspective of “trash”* held by people around me. For this week’s topic, I will briefly summarize the dangers of single-use plastics, which we began relying on in the mid- to late-20th century in conjunction with the rise of our insatiable consumerism.

“Single-use plastic” is a term used to describe any plastic created for the sole purpose of using once and then being thrown away or recycled. These are commonly seen in the food in industry, ranging from plastic forks to the saran wrap around pre-cut vegetables, and also in other areas of day-to-day life like tape on your online shopping shipment. Plastic is so integrated into our lives that we don’t notice it (or, I didn’t) until someone points it out to us. For example, the objects pictured below.

According to the “Plastic Free Challenge” website, humans produce 300 million tons of plastic a year with half of it created for a single use. What’s worse about plastic, that makes it so different from other single-use containers made from metal or glass, is that it is not biodegradable. This means that it will never break down naturally like other materials do, but is capable of breaking into smaller and smaller particles of plastic over time wherever it is located. As it does this, it releases hazardous chemicals into the environment that were initially included when it was first created.

It would be nice to say that the best alternative to this overwhelming plastic problem is to encourage more recycling. Unfortunately, most plastics cannot be recycled–the little recycle sign on your to-go container does not mean it is recyclable, but instead identifies what kind of plastic it is. This reality is due to a lack of advanced recycling technology as well as the fact that not all plastics are a good enough quality to be used again. Plastic has its place in our world today, just like anything else, but it has been used to an extent beyond what is healthy for us or the environment–it’s time for this to change.

I probably know as well as anyone else does that changing a habit or creating a new one is not an easy task. I can’t shame you for not adopting this lifestyle, especially since it is fairly revolutionary and against the status quo, but I do know this is the direction we are moving in. What I am requesting is no longer a prompt for humanity to recycle, but to do more and be conscientious of the choices and actions they make. For those who want to be conscious consumers and to feel like they are contributing to the betterment of mankind, there is one basic goal you can make to get started.


This is an overwhelming task that I can’t even say I’ve mastered. However, once you notice how much plastic there is around you at all moments of the day, it becomes incredibly simple to opt out of it here and there. Say no to plastic straws, grab a soda from a can instead of a bottle, and bring a reusable mug next time you go to the coffee shop.

My next blog will provide more examples of alternatives to these unnecessary items that litter our homes, lives and the planet. Like so many say, the first step is to recognize and admit there is a problem. So, I implore you to take a second look at what you use each day and question whether or not it may be doing more harm than good. Then, take action.

*I’m attempting to change the way I talk about resources and avoid calling anything trash due to its potential value in one way or another. It is not benefiting anyone if we continue to place objects in dumpsters and accept that the “garbage” is not longer our problem because, one day, it will be all of our problems.


Sustainability Chronicles – Composting

The discussion surrounding waste humans create is an interesting one. It’s not often that the typical American thinks much about what happens after they throw a candy wrapper in the dumpster next to their apartment or toss a plastic bottle in that blue recycling bin. If an individual does consider the path that “garbage” may take, it is usually brief and with little consideration to alternatives. But who can really blame someone for having this mindset? We live in a world of convenience and instant gratification in which fast food is expected, single-use plastics run rampant and fashionable clothing is dirt cheap; we live and breath this culture. Regardless, this is no real excuse. I am one person who aims to shake the common comfort we have come to latch onto and refuse to be shaken from. I will not accept that this is just how the world works and neither should you. Now, onto my topic of the day–composting.

We, as a general people, simply accept that our trash is sent directly to landfills or incineration plants, so I’ve made it a personal goal to produce no waste at all. By buying less or in bulk, or diverting trash to the recycling bin, I have significantly reduced what I throw directly into my trash can at home. I am not nearly as close to zero waste as I want to be, largely due to having to work up the energy to cook from home or travel to markets with bulk options, but my habits has drastically improved already.

Despite this change, I couldn’t have been nearly as successful at changing my lifestyle without the help of one of life’s most natural processes–the decomposing into organic matter. As microorganisms and bacteria break down organic matter like fruits and vegetables, they create a very nutrient-dense soil called compost (University of Illinois, para. 2). This means that almost all the food that is left over in our lunches that goes bad in our fridge or is undesired can end up contributing toward a very helpful substance. I’ve been extremely lucky to live in a city that provides a compost collection service nearly once every week at local farmer’s markets. I’ve found it increasingly easy to incorporate the habit of collecting my leftover food and dropping it off at the collection points every few weeks as I’ve become more passionate about the fight to reduce municipal waste.

Food waste has become a serious problem in America and around the world. Only 5.1 percent of more than “38 million tons of food waste” generated in the U.S. in 2014 was composted instead of being sent to a landfill (Environmental Protection Agency, para. 8). Since food makes up more than 20 percent of municipal solid waste, this is an issue for multiple reasons, but one significant issue in particular. Trash placed in landfills are
essentially put in an airtight bag so that none of the potential nutrients from food waste
are ever returned to the soil (EPA, para.12).

Overall, composting is a viable option for reducing municipal waste. There are ways it can be better implemented in cities and developed as a process on a large-scale, but it has earned it’s role as a refuse alternative. There are various studies out there showing the benefits and disadvantages of food waste composting, so I encourage all readers to look into it more. This is just a brief synopsis for those who are not familiar and could benefit from some extra fun facts in their back pockets.

It seemed fitting to share this on Earth Day 2018, when we seem to be causing more damage, but caring much less about our environmental impact than I remember ten years ago. My intention when writing is to show that there are ways we can change the status quo and improve how we live. Nothing is set in stone and there are ways to better almost every situation we come into contact with. What works best now is not guaranteed to be correct in years to come, but the least we can do is avoid complacency and exemplify continuous improvement.

Editor’s Note: I welcome feedback and conversation, so if you have any thoughts to share, please do!


Environmental Protection Agency. (2017, July 06). Sustainable Management of Food Basics. Retrieved January 14, 2018, from

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (n.d.). Getting Started: 10 Questions for Cities
and Towns Considering Residential Curbside Composting. Retrieved January 16, 2018, from

University of Illinois. (2018). The Science of Composting. Retrieved January 16, 2018,

I had to start somewhere

I’ve always enjoyed writing, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized I’m pretty darn good at it. I suppose that’s proof that perusing media content for grammar and inconsistencies as a fun pastime turns a nervous novice (key the alliteration) into a very proficient journalist. Now that I’m fairly confident in my news writing abilities, I will take a chance and attempt something more creative like this here blog. So, let’s begin this journey into publicly writing about what I think matters, shall we?

I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing. – Socrates