It’s 9 a.m., and your first class starts at 10. Your phone alarm goes off, rousing you from your much-needed sleep. You roll over in bed and unplug your phone from its plastic phone charger. Still yawning, you get up, put on your plastic flip-flops (those shared bathrooms are grimy) and grab your plastic shower caddy filled with shampoo, conditioner and soap, all held in plastic containers. You look around for your plastic toothbrush, plastic contact case with your plastic contacts inside, plastic hairbrush, plastic hair dryer, plastic razor, plastic ID card, plastic, plastic, plastic.
According to Stony Brook University’s sustainability website, each student produces approximately 640 pounds of solid waste per year. “In a lifetime, the average American will throw away 600 times their adult weight in garbage,” said Kupenda Palmer, a sustainability officer at Stony Brook University.
While environmentalists certainly encourage recycling, plastics cannot be infinitely recycled. In fact, most plastics are downcycled, meaning that they cannot be reused for their original purpose and instead are turned into lesser-quality goods like benches, fleece and carpet fibers.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but the three ‘R’s’ are actually in order, and the first one is to REDUCE, then reuse and lastly recycle,” said Condrea Zhuang, president of Stony Brook’s Environmental Club. “Recycling is just a Band-Aid solution to our plastic waste problem, but reducing plastic production and usage will be targeting the root of the issue and causing less destruction to the planet overall.”
So, what can students do to reduce their waste?
“The first step is to take a look at their lifestyle and carefully consider what plastic is unavoidable and what can be cut out,” Zhuang said.
Here are a few suggestions to help you cut out plastic from your life.
Buy your own silverware
Plastic silverware is available at all of Stony Brook’s dining locations. While it may be tempting to use disposable cutlery to avoid washing dishes, it’s an enormous waste to throw it away after one use. Instead, buy your own silverware and carry it with you in your backpack.
Reuse your water bottle
Not only is buying bottled water more expensive than buying gas, purchasing one-use water bottles is extremely wasteful. While people claim to like the taste better than that of tap water, few can distinguish tap water from bottled water in a blind taste test. Additionally, the two largest bottled water companies in the world, Aquafina and Dasani, actually sell repackaged tap water. Stony Brook has water bottle fill-up stations all around campus. It takes 20 seconds to fill up your BPA-free reusable water bottle with the finest tap water that New York has to offer.
Buy fewer packaged goods
If you’re planning to eat your food directly after purchasing it, plastic wrap is unnecessary and easily avoidable. Choose foods like soup or bagels that are unpackaged instead of chips or muffins that are wrapped individually.
Stony Brook’s new reusable takeout container
Stony Brook has rolled out a new reusable container program for takeout in East and West Side Dining, and Zhuang said she highly recommends taking full advantage of it. The containers cost $5, which is refunded at the end of the semester. You don’t even have to wash your own container; you can just bring it back dirty and get a clean one.
Move-out collection drive
At the end of the school year, perfectly functional items are tossed in the trash because students cannot bring them home. This year, instead of throwing away your things, donate them to the Environmental Club’s move-out collection drive. The club then donates your items to community organizations and local food pantries. Not only are you helping the environment, but you’re also giving back to the community.