A Project for Better Journalism chapter
Student Life

Helping our planet, one gum wrapper at a time

You’re walking through your favorite park, but suddenly you’re hurtling through mountains of garbage. Landfills are not often known as ‘beautiful places’, but they are still a part of our planet. This garbage is finding its way into our Great Lakes, our oceans, even our own backyards. The garbage is taking its toll on our citizens and our wildlife. As I was thinking about all of these statistics and ideas, I wondered how hard it would be to try and limit the amount of waste I put on this earth. I was sick of being part of the problem, and wanted to be a part of the solution.

  The hardest part was trying to figure the best way to record my waste management. I decided to go three days not thinking about my waste use, and three days trying to limit my use of waste. In my first three days instead of throwing away my trash, I put it into a plastic bag and watched the amount of trash grow. After the first three days, I followed the same plan, this time trying to limit my waste.

Not thinking about waste

As I went on with my normal day, I noticed that I had been eating lots of snacks, and the amount of plastic packaging that stuck out to me was outstanding. As my second day, I had eaten at restaurants for most of my meals. Although I could not ask the restaurant workers for the trash they would have thrown away, I can still imagine the amount that would have come from my meals. The packaging from my mixed vegetables and can from the soda I drank could only add much more waste to my collection. On the third day, I noticed that I had accumulated four empty bottles of shampoo and face wash in my shower, so I decided to add them to my bag of trash as well. This brought me to think about new options that I had never thought of before. Of course I cannot stop using shampoo and face wash, I decided to do research about what other options there were to use less waste. I instantly remembered an ad I saw for a company called Lush which has all natural toiletries. The company just came out with a product called “Naked Shower Gel”. This means that there is no packaging involved in this product, so the shower gel is turned into a solidified jelly. Lush has done their own studies and stated “In 2016, we sold more than 5 million bottles of shower gel. If just half the customers who purchased these bottles switched to naked shower gels, we could’ve saved approximately 2.6 million bottles from ending up in landfill. That’s something worth getting naked for.” After hearing about this outstanding statistic, I knew that I didn’t want to be another person adding this much garbage into a landfill. I had soon become curious of the amounts of trash in my bag that I could simply just recycle, but I decided until I was finished with my project to do so.

  I was astonished by the amount of trash that I had accumulated in just three days. Not only was I surprised by the amount of garbage as a whole, but I was baffled by the sheer amount of gum wrappers that I had collected in the past three days. When I counted the amount of gum wrappers, I came to a grand total of twelve, in just three days. Although a gum wrapper is a small item, it all adds up very quickly in our landfills.

  When starting my research of trying to limit my waste output, I quickly found that this would be very difficult. Of course, I was trying to use the least amount of waste that I could, but it is nearly impossible for me, a teenage girl who plays sports and spends lots of time at school, to find three days full of food that don’t require any waste use at all.

Thinking about my waste

I decided that my approach for this study would to buy food in bulk, because it contains much less waste. The first food I thought of was bread. Bread is the best bang for your buck. It gives you a lot of food, for just one wrapper.  I also invested in fruit. Bananas and apples both do not use much waste, other than the sticker that may be found on the fruit item. As the days grew on, the task did not get easier. Generally, I don’t have a very healthy diet, so forcing myself not to eat foods that require packaging, means that I have to stick with eating lots of fruits and vegetables. Although I went to go buy more apples, the only apples I could find were housed in a large plastic bag. It increasingly came to my knowledge that finding healthful meals without much packaging was very difficult. I feel that if I were living alone, this project would have been much simpler. Being around others and only being able to eat foods with little to no waste is very difficult. As they were ordering pizza and drinking sodas, I was very tempted to join in, but I knew I did not add more unnecessary waste onto our planet.

As I reflect on my latter three days of my experiment, the amount of waste I used was shocking compared to the first three days of not thinking about my waste.

  When dealing with the waste use around our country, many turn towards recycling to eliminate the amount of trash that goes into our planet. Recycling allows for all of the trash humans would throw away to be used to create something new. Of the 254 million tons of trash that was thrown away in the United States in 2013, only 87 million tons was recycled.

  As I reflect on the amount of trash that I collected, I had realized that nearly all could be recycled instead of being throw into the landfills. If recycling was more pushed in our society, the amount of trash going into landfills would decrease drastically.  If everybody were to take more care into recycling their trash instead of just simply throwing it away, our planet would be a much cleaner and healthier environment. Although it may be difficult for me to stop using waste all together, every piece of plastic that is not put into our own backyards, helps.