My innate love for Earth continually forces my attention towards its welfare. As I travelled abroad in the past few years, one constant became clear: the significance of eco-friendly practices in other communities. The Japanese were particularly engrossed in their sophisticated waste management system and their word, ’mottainai’, was frequently used as an expression of the nation’s environmental awareness. I witnessed the results of these values: spotless streets, well-kept parks, and decreased public smoking. When I arrived back in the States, I was dumbstruck by the lack of sustainable conventions and I was overwhelmed with an urgent desire to help. In my tiny Brooklyn apartment, I found myself separating the trash out and even organizing my roommate’s recycling. My interest in waste disposal led me on somewhat of a rampage to find solutions for our ever growing ecological problem. Sifting through a mountain of discussions and podcasts, I found, among many other intriguing inventions, an experiment performed by an Indian professor, Dr.Vasudevan. With a background in chemistry, he was able to repurpose and mold old plastic with bitumen to create the shiny tar surface that we know as roads. I was intrigued by such an innovative discovery and became deeply interested in the way materials science and chemistry can relate to our global strategies. For the next few weeks, I started to analyze my own carbon footprint with the goal of incrementally reducing the amount of recyclables that I produced. I discovered many organic markets that provided ways to buy package-free goods, but it was out of my price range. I quickly realized that it was ultimately impossible to shop zero-waste while maintaining my budget.

For the future of sustainable packaging, research in materials science and chemistry will be necessary in inventing compostable materials. The adoption of inventions such as Dr.Vasudevan’s road project will be part of the solution in reducing the amount of waste that returns to landfills. Additionally, the introduction of re-usable product lines will be necessary to make an impact to the waste management system. For example, cleaning supplies companies should offer consumers re-usable packing that they can return to the company in order to re-fill the product again. This would reduce the amount of recyclables that go into the trash. Market places can also adopt new ways of shopping, such as zero-waste concepts where shoppers bring their own containers to fill with the food products. The future of sustainable packaging is brightly filled with ‘mottainai’ and I look forward to being at the forefront of this investigation at the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

Essay by: Sarah Wilson
Columbia University (School of General Studies)

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