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We are afraid to offend people, but not afraid to offend the environment

When plastic was first popularized in the 1960’s, it was cheap, malleable and light, which proved to be extremely economically beneficial to corporations and businesses across the globe. Due to the benefits of plastic, plastic product use is exponentially increasing, with 27,370,000 U.S tons in 1960, to 77,920,000 U.S. tons in 2015. Since plastic is not biodegradable, where does all of this generated plastic go to?

Although the total plastic consumption has increased, recent strides to encourage recycling has led to around the same amount of landfilled plastic: 24.5 million U.S. tons in 1960 and 29.4 million U.S. tons in 2015. This landfilled plastic easily finds its way into our oceans, with 8.8 million U.S tons annually being dumped into the ocean. There is so much plastic in our oceans, that by 2050, plastic will outweigh marine animals.

The uncaring notion of Americans regarding plastic products must be mitigated and stopped, to protect marine ecosystems, and in turn, us. From the moment you walk into Walmart, the most popular store in America, the first thing you are greeted with is rows and rows of cashiers that each have a simple thing: a plethora of plastic bags.

Unfortunately, the majority of Americans consider plastic bags to be commonplace. Most Americans hand out and use plastic bags and plastic products without a second thought of the impact these products have on our environment.

Everywhere I turn at Brandeis, plastic seems to flood the campus. From Upper Usdan to the C-store, plastic utensils and plastic bags are handed out as if they have no impact on our environment.

It seems as if the C-store puts in almost no effort to try and lower their plastic output. There is a rack of plastic bags directly next to the cashier, and it seems as if they are trying to encourage students to take them. There are no reusable bag options purchasable in the store, even for a small fee. So if students decide to purchase more than a handful of items, which they often do, they are forced to take a plastic bag and contribute to the exponentially growing problem. If the C-store is intent on offering plastic bags, a small fee should be introduced to discourage their use. This not only saves Brandeis money over time on plastic bags, but also brings us one step closer to becoming an environmentally-friendly campus.

There is a simple solution to mitigate the impacts of the plastic dilemma: the availability of reusable bags. Not only would the option of reusable bags offer environmentally-conscious students an easily accessible alternative to plastic bags, but, combined with the recurring small fee on plastic bags, could encourage other students to begin using reusable bags. These bags can be sold in various sizes so that students can easily carry them around in their backpack.

The bags could have the Brandeis logo on them as a medium of illustrating their school spirit. Alternatively the design of the bags could be left up to the student body. A competition for the best bag design could be held. Not only would this get the student body more involved in this process, but it would also attract attention to this cause.

On the same token, there are no metal utensils available for purchase in the C-store, let alone anywhere on the Brandeis campus. This forces students to use plastic utensils when purchasing food from either Upper Usdan or the C-store. In Upper Usdan, metal utensils can be available, then a designated area to put used utensils that can be washed, just like in the dining hall. In the C-store, inexpensive sets of utensils can be bought for students to have in their dorm rooms. This is not only convenient for students, but also decreases the consumption of plastic utensils. Additionally, to further decrease the consumption of plastic utensils at the C-store, a small fee can be introduced.

The bookstore is generally known to sell Brandeis merchandise, including Brandeis shirts, water bottles, mugs and even keychains. Why not reusable bags as well? If put near the front of the bookstore, many people could walk by these bags, and some could consider purchasing one or a few of them. They could also provide great inexpensive gifts for families that allow parents and families to show off their school pride, not to mention be more environmentally friendly.

Brandeis is known nationally as a very progressive university. Since the founding of Brandeis by the American Jewish community as a means for groups that were discriminated against to receive a higher education, Brandeis has been pushing progressive boundaries. In this regard, however, we seem to be falling behind. We are afraid to offend people, but not afraid to offend the environment. It’s time to become leaders on the environmental front.

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