Imagine you’re me. You’re an eighteen-year-old student obsessively scanning your plastic iced-coffee cup for a recycling logo before finding it, rinsing out your cup with a splash of water from your own metal water bottle, and tossing it into a nearby recycling bin, even though there are dozens of identical cups in the trash cans dotted along campus. You continue to your next class and briefly wonder if there was a point to taking the time to do this when one more plastic cup in a trash bin wouldn’t make much of a difference in the big picture.

The truth is, one more trashed plastic cup means one more object bound to take up space for over a million years; and as seen in the past million years, that time can make a significant difference on the environment. As a gen-Z individual, I’ve grown up in the middle of a climate debate. All my life I’ve heard the debates about how the world is crumbling around us versus how climate change is a political facade that’s bad for business. I would argue that while politics and business certainly play a role in the matter, the evident gradual dwindling of summer rain and fall breezes in my hometown over the years have not been a facade.

A single plastic cup does not cause the world to burn. It doesn’t cause marine life to dwindle, it doesn’t cause oxygen-producing bacteria to die off due to the imbalance, leading to the weakening of the ozone layer, or the heating of the oceans and the air as plants begin to die off in the irregular conditions. A single plastic cup does not allow smog to then fill the air and choke the planet as it slowly freezes and boils over at once. A single plastic cup does not do this, but a billion of them might, and there are far more than that disposed of every year. This is where it becomes clear that the actions of the companies that produce these plastic cups have an immeasurably greater influence than consumers like me, who use and dispose of only one cup at a time. To make matters worse, there is more than plastic cups involved, there are plastic straws, plastic utensils, seran-wraps, styrofoam boxes, all items that are similarly produced by the billion and take a million years each to decompose. If you’re me, you get to make the decision to recycle a single plastic cup at a time, but if you are a CEO of a company, you get to make the decision to adopt environmentally friendly packaging and change the whole cycle. Through the gradual normalization of eco-friendly, biodegradable materials, the reduction in pollution and the chain reaction that comes with it might offer the planet some time to heal, and maybe even another billion years or so. Who knows, maybe my grandchildren will get to enjoy a few more days of summer rain in their lifetime than I will in mine.

Essay by: Hannah May Rojas
Arizona State University

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