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Living Sustainably

Individual efforts help improve environmental issues

October 22, 2019

 Plastic fills beaches, oceans, the stomachs of marine animals. Temperatures reach an all-time high, melting ice caps and sucking the moisture out of lakes and rivers. Humans and animals alike breathe polluted air, unwittingly contaminating their bodies with a single breath.

The gravity of the environmental situation has seemingly come crashing down all at once. People have made the realization that something must be done, yet it seems as though no action is being taken. People may think their actions as one person couldn’t possibly make a difference, or they simply may not know where to start.

For junior Anna West, the story is different. As a student in Environmental Science last year, she discovered the importance of taking responsibility for treating the environment with the respect it so desperately needs. West has always had an interest in environmental issues, but Environmental Science helped her broaden her perspective and implement change in her own life.  

“It gave us more background knowledge about what we can do, and we explored it in more depth than you would get from, say, the news or something,” West explained.

Environmental Science teacher Mrs. Kim Maxwell believes that being informed is the first step people must make before making changes to their lives. 

“I think it’s a lack of awareness that kids have… I think just being informed of, you know, like having access to clean water is something that not a lot of people have,” Mrs. Maxwell said. “Only one in six people in the world have access to clean water. And so something as simple as [walking] into the bathroom and [flipping] on the sink… that’s not a luxury that everybody has.”

From what she learned in Environmental Science, West realized that while one person’s actions may seem inconsequential, even the smallest changes can prove impactful.

“Success and change can come about [many] ways. If a lot of individuals change, that would make a difference. For example, overgrazing from cows is a big problem and a lot of methane comes from cattle, so if everybody gave up meat one day of the week, a lot of good things would come from that,” West said. 

Mrs. Maxwell agrees that small changes can help contribute to a much bigger environmental movement.

“There’s also a lot of resource consumption when it comes to agriculture and meat industries,” Mrs. Maxwell said. “So not necessarily saying that everybody should become a vegetarian, but even if you went like meatless for a day, that would reduce the overall resources that are utilized in that industry.”

West explains that while individual actions are essential in improving the environmental situation, responsibility also falls on corporations.

“Not everything is able to be done on a grand scale, but I think the key to making real change is … a mixture of large contributions and individual actions,” West said.

An example of a way large corporations can enact environmental change is UMSL Sustainability, an organization made up of UMSL students and staff. It aims to spread awareness about how to live more eco-friendly lives and provides resources for people at UMSL to start making changes in their lives.

Ashley Breyfogle, a biology major at UMSL, aids in planning Sustainability’s events and spreading the word about the program.

“We’re a group of faculty and students that … are always brainstorming different ideas on how to make things more sustainable,” Breyfogle explained. “The thing I’m really focused on right now is … working on getting recycling and [composting] over at Meadows, the apartment on campus.”

Breyfogle gets the opportunity to take action on a much larger scale than just implementing change in her daily life. Because of her involvement in Sustainability, her reach is larger than that of an ordinary person.

However, Breyfogle believes that anyone who puts their mind to it can live a more sustainable life. From recycling to joining an organization like Sustainability, she believes anything and everything has an impact.

“Talking to people, like peer influence, is a good way to get people to start recycling or whatever else. Small scale, it doesn’t seem like you make a difference, but you definitely do,” Breyfogle said.

Mrs. Maxwell agrees that individual actions can make a huge difference in improving the environmental problems that are being faced today.
“Some things can be as simple as, instead of throwing your plastic bottle in, throw it in the recycling bins that are placed in every single classroom throughout the school. I take multiple plastic bottles out of my trash cans every day. That’s one really small thing that could happen, but on a really large scale can make a difference.” Mrs. Maxwell said.

According to Mrs. Maxwell, it’s important to remember that the resources we have today must be saved for the future. In her eyes, resource consumption is one of the biggest environmental issues that must be tackled.

“Our world is just what we got, there’s not a new one… The resources we have are the resources we have. Some of them are able to be renewed and some of them are not, and if we’re not using them sustainably… the world as we know it is going to become much more expensive, much harder to survive in,” Mrs. Maxwell said.

While it’s easy to focus on the many negative aspects of the current environmental situation, it’s important to remember that action is being made, both on a small and large scale. 

“There are a lot of companies that are coming about that have like, reusable water bottles, reusable feminine hygiene products. There’s a lot of companies who are using more organic and eco-friendly stuff and trying to spread awareness,” West said.

West believes that companies with a big influence are an important factor in getting individuals to live more sustainably.

“They’re important because of their impact, mostly, and because more people believe them over some small thing. They just have a much bigger range and a bigger influence,” West explained.

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