Opinion: Being environmentally friendly is more than following trends

Just as clothes and jewelry come in and out of fashion, so have many environmentalist movements. One year it’s canvas grocery bags, another it's hybrid cars and this year it’s plastic straws.

Although these trends can help individuals to understand their own contribution to pollution and climate change, they more frequently become the only aspect of environmentalism that people care about. Change does indeed start small, but skipping a straw has little effect if the same people forgoing straws contribute to the massive amounts of plastic waste plaguing the environment. 

According to Ashley May of USA Today, plastic straws don’t even make the top five when it comes to ranking forms of litter. According to a 2015 study, “fishing related items” causes the most damage to marine life, not plastic straws. Likewise, plastic bags and balloons are “expected to have the greatest ingestion impact.” Although straws can cause harm to the environment and marine life, one should take a more holistic approach to environmentalism and more widely consider the plastics and even the food that they consume. 

Individuals cannot be held responsible for all the environmental damage caused by corporations, but putting any rightful blame on companies should not excuse the individual from maintaining an environmentally sustainable lifestyle. Perhaps one of the greatest dangers to the environment is apathy, followed by ignorance.

Daily and personal change can still begin with little adjustments, but they must spring from a widened perspective. Sure, skip the straw, but also forgo disposable water bottles in favor of reusable ones. Mindful and educated decision-making is essential. As with everything, one must have purpose-driven actions.

It can be easy to toss recyclable plastic in the nearest trash can or pick disposable cutlery in favor of something that you would actually have to wash, but the small, intentional differences in everyday life can ultimately add up to significant differences. The corporations that can be blamed for so much waste will continue to produce and pollute if there is no societal change. It is always easier to blame someone else, but if no one accepts even their small contribution to pollution, climate change and waste, nothing will be done about it.

So let the same mindfulness with which you dutifully forgo a straw be consistent within your lifestyle. As the future businesspeople, educators and scientists of this world, it is important for us to establish values that lead to wise changes that will follow us into our upcoming careers. One can follow the environmentalist “fads,” but should understand the importance of a lifestyle that is environmentally aware. 

Environmentalism is not a trend that can be taken up one month and forgotten the next. We must treat it with the mindfulness and gravity it deserves and that we are capable of. Lifestyle changes are not always easy, but if we value a cause and are conscious of our decisions, bigger changes will slowly but surely come.

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