by NINA STEVENSON
A SCENE any Stellenbosch student is familiar with: the outdoor, concrete, campus bins – always occurring in trios – all perpetually filled with coffee and iced-drink cups. In my time here I’ve had trouble understanding why university students, who one would conclude to be somewhat educated, can’t understand the dire climate situation we are in. Single-use plastics are continuously used, yet people still put them in THE WRONG BIN. Slowly over the past year a sad truth has dawned upon me: people simply don’t care (enough).
At least, people don’t care when it’s inconvenient. The “ditch the straw” movement starting in 2017 is one such example. People actively made changes because it was trendy (and hence convenient), and suddenly, a vast range of reusable straws made from a variety of different materials were available everywhere. The change made in this was incredible.
But what about all the other single-use plastics? Do they not kill turtles? Only 9% of plastics are being recycled worldwide, while the rest eventually end up in the sea – most of the time via rivers – breaking down into microplastics which are consumed by sea life, and yes, eaten by us through the consumption of sea life. Not to mention the breakdown of plastic has highly toxic effects on the ocean as a whole, including phytoplankton, which is estimated to produce at least half of the oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere.
Now, I’m not here to preach to you why the lifestyle you’re living is wrong. Everyone has reasons as to why they choose to live the way they do. I’m simply here to remind you to question these reasons. As we are currently in a climate crisis, our present actions will irreversibly determine the course of human life to come. So what can you do? Here I list three tips, all equally important.
Keep yourself informed. We are in an age when knowledge is more accessible than ever, so make proper use of it. This will ultimately lead you to care more about your actions involving sustainability, leading you to act as such.
Use your voice to challenge producers of greenhouse gas emissions. This is where we find the greatest escalation in our impending climate doom – in 2017 a study showed that 100 companies were responsible for 71% of carbon emissions since 1998 (as shown in the Carbon Majors Report by CDP). Be mindful of ways that waste interacts with your life, and make necessary changes. You’ve heard it before, and I’ll say it again.
Get a reusable water bottle, shopping bag and cup (chances are if you can afford a to-go coffee, you can afford a R100 cup), and actively make use of them where you can. Cut out unnecessary waste from your life, and dispose of it responsibly (the three-bin system is pretty straight-forward).
In the long run, many of your practices pay themselves off, saving you money thereafter – the menstrual cup I bought two years ago paid for itself in six months. These kind of waste-efficient practices aren’t hard to do. Most people simply just can’t make the extra effort, or they don’t find them to be convenient. You might have to dig deep here, but you need to remind yourself that your laziness and/ or inconvenience is a small price to pay for the recovery of a world in crisis. After practicing these efforts, they become second nature.
No one’s asking you to go full-on zero-waste or vegan (although I would be wildly supportive), I’m here to ask you to continually grow and challenge your sustainability, in whatever small steps work for you. As the saying goes: we don’t need a handful of people doing sustainability perfectly, we need everyone doing it imperfectly.