From tote bags and Hydro Flasks to metal straws and biodegradable products, these trendy sustainable items have attracted people like biology junior Mariana Valdez to “cute and smart” ways to live sustainably.
Valdez serves as the president of Strategies for Ecology, Education, Diversity and Sustainability, also known as SEEDS, which advocates for ecological education.
“Every little mindful act that people can put forward is going to make just that much of a little bit of a difference,” she said.
Although metal straws and smaller ecological alternatives do make a minor impact to the environment, it is not always with the intent to help, but more as a therapeutic practice, environmental science sophomore Klarissa Garcia said.
This creates the belief that recycling is “cute and proactive” to the environment without understanding the motivation behind it, she said.
“It’s a more personal thing for them,” Garcia said.
Recycling at school seems efficient for most students because bins are everywhere, she said.
“If you don’t have a recycling bin in your house, you’re not going to really be tempted to recycle,” Garcia said.
Convenience is a huge factor for recycling, she said. If students are near a recycling bin, they will recycle. If they are near a trash can, they will throw the item away.
Garcia said cutting back on people’s excessive need for materials can prevent waste from piling up.
The natural world is plastered in plastic, said John Darling, UTA’s health and safety specialist.
Working at the UTA Campus Compost Center, located behind the Environmental Health and Safety office, Darling single-handedly sorts through the never-ending campus waste, including piles of plastics and nonrecyclable debris.
“Every day, it’s like keeping up with a conveyor belt,” he said.
The release of methane gases from industrialization, farming and overpopulation prevents people from practicing earth-conscious habits.
Single-use straws, lids, cups and other waste made of plastics that are not properly recycled contribute to the problem, Darling said.
However, there are some materials that cannot be fully recycled, like styrofoam or the “dreaded straws,” he said.
People don’t have to walk very far to notice the ecological damages. Pieces of plastic are found on the ground people walk on, Darling said.
Being aware of surroundings can help reduce pollution, Darling said.
“Stop and think,” he said. “Look around.”
Growing up in South Texas, Valdez noticed people’s perceptions of the Galveston beaches have changed because they are now worried about stepping foot into a polluted ocean, she said.
Beaches surrounding Galveston that once served as a fun place to go fishing or swimming have become victims to bacteria in the water and waste on their shores, according to a 2018 Houston Chronicle article.
Plastics don’t go anywhere because when they break down, they become microplastics that are consumed by sea creatures and become part of the sand and water, she said.
“[When] I was a kid, it was fine, it wasn’t really that big of a deal,” Valdez said.
She had never thought in her lifetime that the bay areas of South Texas would be susceptible to dramatic ecological change.
In the ‘60s, no one had heard of terminology such as “global warming” or “climate change,” aside from scientists and academics, Darling said. Overpopulation contributed to people taking up resources and damaging their own habitats, he said.
In fact, the first “Earth Day” was celebrated in 1970.
“The fact is, saving the turtles takes a lot of different things,” he said.
Taking care of the planet in 2019 has become a personal practice that lacks motivation, Garcia said. For people that are unaware of how they impact the environment, they don’t see how they can help if it doesn’t directly benefit them, she said.
That’s why seeing the vibrant patterns on fabric totes, stainless steel bottles plastered in customizable stickers and metallic straws ranging in a variety of holographic chrome colors make being ecologically conscious attractive for students like Garcia and Valdez.
In today’s world, it’s so easy to be distracted, and college students have to deal with life’s daily obstacles, Darling said. He advocates for starting more conversations on conservation.