Why is the environment last on the to-do list?

The first step to sustainability is in our hands.


Sydney Kim '20

Environmental sustainability cannot be the lowest priority on our daily to-do list.

Last week, I watched my classmate put her recyclable hummus container in the trash.  She said that she knew it was recyclable, but she did not want to wash the leftover hummus out of the container.  Sadly, I was not surprised.  Even so, the general disregard of sustainable waste practices cannot continue.  As individuals and as a community, we need to be conscious of the significant impact that our daily choices have on the Earth.  Thus, recycling and composting must become an integral part of our everyday routines.

Every year, Americans use about 35 billion plastic bottles, according to utahrecycles.org.  Although all of these bottles are recyclable, only about 30 percent go to recycling centers, according to epa.gov.  The majority of plastic bottles decompose in landfills, a process that can take up to 1,000 years, according to nationalgeographic.org

Frankly, we know that plastic water bottles are recyclable.  In my experience, the most common excuse for not recycling a plastic bottle is that there are no nearby recycling bins.  Oftentimes, it is more convenient to toss plastic bottles and other recyclable items in the trash than it is to take the time to find a recycling bin. 

Plastic products, including recyclable plastic water bottles, can take up to 1,000 years to decompose in landfills.  Courtesy of oregonmetro.gov

Although our days are filled with tasks, activities, and appointments, sustainability cannot be the last item on our to-do lists.  Yes, we are busy people.  Yes, we run past recycling bins all the time, and sometimes it is hard to remember which items can be recycled.  Still, the welfare of our Earth cannot be our lowest priority.  It cannot be that task we neglect and promise ourselves that we will complete “tomorrow.”

Accordingly, the state of Connecticut is working to spread sustainable practices and promote environmental awareness.  Current state law requires all Connecticut schools to recycle, according to ct.gov.  Moreover, Connecticut strongly encourages schools to compost, although they do not mandate the practice.  

Compost is decomposed organic material that serves as a fertilizer for plants.  Composting at home, schools, or businesses can lower carbon footprints and reduce methane emissions from landfills, both of which significantly benefit the environment, according to epa.gov.  Nevertheless, the Environmental Protection Agency calculated that in 2015, Americans did not compost 76 percent of food waste, according to epa.gov.  

Only 24 percent of compostable waste in the United States is composted and reused as plant fertilizer.  Sydney Kim ’20

Schools have the power to change this statistic.  Last year alone, the Katonah-Lewisboro School District in Westchester County, New York, composted over 11 tons of food waste.  Furthermore, their lunch monitors, the adults who supervise the students in the cafeteria, teach the elementary school students proper composting practices, according to klschools.org.  Through educating children on sustainability and helping them to create a habit of recycling and composting, schools can influence the younger generation and change the future of environmentally-friendly waste practices. 

Consider, however, the example of my classmate.  Although she had all of the knowledge necessary to determine that her hummus container was recyclable, she still chose not to recycle it.  If Sacred Heart Greenwich or any school were to introduce compost bins, students, perhaps, simply would not use them. 

The root of this issue is that our society is so distant from nature.  My classmate would likely have chosen differently if she were more aware of the direct impact that the environment has on her future.  If she had a greater appreciation for the Earth and a deeper understanding of our urgent responsibility to preserve it, she would have taken the time to recycle her container. 

Towns, states, and cities are developing environmental organizations to promote recycling and composting.  Sustainable Connecticut, GreeNYC, and Bedford 2020 are just three in the local area.  In grocery stores, there are new compostable alternatives to typically non-compostable items, such as plastic bags and cupcake wrappers.  With all of these developing resources, it is our responsibility to make recycling and composting a personal habit and to remind others to do the same.  

Perhaps this seems like too much extra work and effort, but if we continue to neglect sustainable practices, we will only continue to damage our Earth.  Please, when you finish reading this editorial, do not walk out of the classroom and put your plastic water bottle in the trash.  Is the future, your future, worth learning to compost and remembering to recycle?  Is protecting the Earth worth an extra 20 seconds of thought before you put that bottle in the trash?  

I hope that it is.


Featured Image by Sydney Kim ’20