Whitman students are complicit in the climate crisis—that needs to change

Why we need to do more than go to climate marches

By Clara Koritz Hawkes

Sitting behind me in English, two people are sharing Oreos out of a plastic bag, and next to me, a friend is sipping iced coffee through a plastic straw in a plastic cup. When the bell rings, they all toss their plastic into the trash, where it lies with paper rubrics and several cans marked “recyclable.”

Their lack of concern for the environment annoys me. I roll my eyes because they didn’t recycle. But secretly, I’m a hypocrite: later that day, I buy a smoothie in a comically large plastic cup, sip it through a plastic straw and throw the cup and a paper flyer left on the kitchen counter into the trash.

This isn’t unusual; every day, students toss paper into the trash and use obscene amounts of plastic without thinking twice.

In an informal Black & White survey of 25 students, 13 said they considered themselves environmentally friendly. On Dec. 5, I rummaged through 16 trash cans on the first floor and found that 12 of them contained at least two or three items that could be recycled.  Since Whitman’s maintenance staff can’t separate all trash from recycling, it’s up to us to be conscious—as we should.

Our mindless neglect can add up to real consequences.

In 2013, as reported by the EPA, the U.S. accumulated 230 million tons of trash. That’s 4.4 pounds of trash per person per day, with that number growing. Landfills are overflowing. Biodiversity declined 27 percent in the last 30 years, according to the World Wildlife Fund, because our ecosystems are filling with toxins.

But you’ve heard this. Since elementary school, we’ve learned to “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” and our parents constantly remind us to turn off the lights when we leave the room.

If we know how poorly we treat the planet, and we know that our actions have serious consequences, why has little changed in school? Here’s why: we just don’t care enough. Disturbing headlines should call us to action, but even when half the planet’s melting, we still think one plastic straw won’t contribute to global warming. That may be true, but if climate change could become irreversible by 2030, as a CNN report projected, it won’t be because we weren’t educated—it will be because we were apathetic.

You can start small: refuse plastic straws when they’re offered. Bring your own bag when you shop and skip the plastic altogether. Reuse your Ziploc bags, and take time to separate your garbage into appropriate bins.

If we all stayed mindful of our footprint, we could make a small but meaningful difference.

Whitman could do its part too: making labels on recycling bins clearer would be significant, preventing people from using the classroom recycling bin as a second trash can.

And we can do even more. Attend climate marches. Start environmental clubs. Participate in those that already exist and strengthen their events.

Building good recycling habits requires almost no effort. If we don’t want this planet to be fishless by 2050 and climate change to be irreversible by 2030, I’d at least stop putting those plastic water bottles you use every day in the trash can.