Sustainability isn’t just for ENSP majors

The planet doesn’t need a hero or an elaborate scheme to be saved; it needs small, long-lasting changes everybody can commit to. Many of us are guilty of thinking we are insignificant, that our actions are so miniscule that doing nothing is better than doing something.

Many believe the government or large companies are to blame. Yet in reality, the responsibility and future of our Earth belongs in the hands of everyday citizens.

According to EcoCycle, the average American will throw away 600 times their weight in garbage in the span of their life. This means each person will leave about 90,000 pounds of garbage for the future generation of children.

What’s more, EcoCycle says 75 percent of the waste Americans create is recyclable, and only 30 percent is actually recycled. In just looking at beverage containers, about 144 billion containers end up in landfills, incinerators or on the streets. A college student alone produces 640 pounds of solid waste on average each year.

In addition, The University of Southern Indiana states that the average American destroys seven trees each year from using products like paper and wood. This amounts to a staggering 2 billion trees per year.

Aside from recycling, carpooling can make a great impact as well. According to the Sustainability Hub there are about 250 million cars on the road in the U.S., which is more than one car per American adult. Even though there is more than one car per person, 78 percent of people drive to work alone. Only 1 in 10 people choose to carpool.

If more people put effort into making small, everyday changes, the impact could be enormous. Each year, carpooling saves 85 million gallons of gasoline and $1.1 billion in gasoline and other car expenses, according to carinsurance.org. The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011 American Community Survey states only 9.7 percent of employees carpooled to work that year. Imagine how much gas and carbon dioxide emissions could be saved if everybody carpooled.

Even simply changing appliances and fixtures makes a difference. According to National Geographic, switching a regular showerhead to a low-flow showerhead saves 15 gallons of water during a 15 minute shower. Upgrading a regular toilet to a low-flow toilet reduces water usage from 3-6 gallons to about 1.6 gallons and turning off the faucet while brushing teeth saves 200 gallons of water monthly.

There are even some well-believed myths that may be hindering the planet. Surprisingly, taking a bath uses approximately 70 gallons of water per use while showering typically takes about 15-20 gallons of water National Geographic states. In addition, using a dishwasher is more environmentally friendly than hand washing. A dishwasher usually takes 4 gallons of water to operate while hand washing can use up to 20 gallons.

There are many small changes each person can make to ensure a healthy planet for generations to come. Instead of waiting for someone else to find the all-encompassing “cure,” people need to form environmentally-friendly habits that translate into everyday life.

Many efforts can be done without even stepping foot outside of the house. Opening a window instead of turning on a light, grabbing a blanket instead of reaching for the thermostat, or walking down the street instead of driving, are all simple fixes that could further help the planet.

The health and future of the Earth is the responsibility of each individual citizen. The legacy left behind relies on the actions of today. The mentality that these small changes don’t make a difference can spell disaster. There is power in numbers and each and every effort counts.