Students and faculty are actively working to cultivate a greener community 

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With each passing year, the community involved with sustainable living has been steadily increasing. Awareness of the benefits of living greener stems from sources such as social media, familial efforts, and the cultivation of appreciation for the big, and not-so-big, things that regular people can incorporate into their everyday lives. 

Senior Sarah Tiggleman, whose family has been integrating sustainable living techniques into their home for years, says that her main focus is the second ‘R’: reuse. Their approach to this lifestyle goes back to the basics and includes creative alternatives to plastic containers, sponges, and sandwich bags on top of more commonplace efforts such as carpooling and composting. 

“My family tries to limit our use of plastic,” Sarah said. “I’ve used gum containers [as tupperware] before, and my mom buys reusable bags [that are] wax paper, so you can wrap anything in them. We [also] have cotton [sponges] that we can put in the dishwasher. Instead of throwing [things] away and putting them to waste, [we use things] that can either [be] composted or reused.”

The idea of composting has been lingering in the corners of society since the early 1900s, but, in recent years, the technique has been gaining popularity as more and more households choose to take the issue of overloaded trash into their own hands. 

This method allows people to take their old food waste, such as fruit skins, eggshells, and even napkins, and compile it in a rotating bin that is usually stored outside. Once enough time has passed, the decomposed matter becomes dirt that can then be used for gardening purposes. 

Sam Werkema, a senior whose family had previously participated in this environmentally-sound technique, believes that composting is a great way to give back to the earth. Unfortunately, the company that Sam’s family used to dispose of their compostable material is no longer in operation. However, he says that they would love to begin using their own backyard bin as the weather begins to warm up since it does become difficult to compost in the colder winter months. 

“If we have our own bin, we’d like to use [the compost] in our garden because we do grow some vegetables,” Sam said. “Getting to use that would be nice. Any way that we can diminish the amount of waste that we’re producing is a good thing. When you’re doing it that way with food products, you can use [the waste] in a ton of different ways, [which] makes it a lot more useful, too.”

These composting bins can be expensive though, ranging anywhere from 50 dollars for a smaller bin to 150 for a larger one. Ultimately, this is a limitation for many people who would like to pursue a more sustainable lifestyle but do not have the means for a lot of the bigger changes.  

“I think expense is a top [issue] for people,” Sarah said, “because as much as we want to have better insulation in our houses or reduce [waste], people are always curious about the money aspect. I think it’s easy for people to think ‘this isn’t going to help’ when [things] are so expensive, but if you think about in the long run and [think about] how it will impact our lives and the environment [in the future], the overall costs decrease.”

Science teacher Chad Scholten tries to include solutions to this money-based problem in his classes, specifically AP Environmental Science, as well as in his own home. 

“[As a teacher], I do a lot of reading [about] all of the things I can incorporate into [my] classes,” Scholten said, “but you can’t read something and not do anything about it. There are times where it seems like you’re being hit over and over again [with] all of the things that have gone wrong, and sometimes you can feel hopeless as a student after reading all that. I always try to give [students] glimpses of ways to fix it and correct it.”

Scholten’s advice is to start small. Although he admits that it would be nice to partake in the more flashy, “on-trend” efforts such as driving an electric car or using a wind turbine for energy, he also remains aware that these things, just like composting bins, cost money. Due to this, his approach to making a difference begins in the kitchen with a more veggie-focused lifestyle.

“Right now, I think the big thing [that] we’re focusing on [is] our diets,” Scholten said. “We started with food because food is something that we eat three times a day. It has so many other ramifications, whether it’s the health of the planet or the health of a person. The advice I would give people advice is to look at the stuff that you’re eating because you’re eating all the time.”

Since the third grade, freshman Madi Zeien has also embodied a vegetarian lifestyle in hopes of bettering the environment. Although she acknowledges that there are a few minor drawbacks to cutting out meat, she feels very positive about her diet overall and encourages others to do the same. 

“I [became a vegetarian] because I don’t like meat,” Madi said, “and it’s [also] better for the environment. Animals are killed in such bad ways, [which] is sad, so that’s why I became [a vegetarian]. It’s difficult sometimes, like when you’re at other people’s houses and can’t eat certain foods, but [everyone] can do it. It’s not a big deal if you just try your best.”

This science behind the meat industry that Madi mentioned is also a large motivator to follow a less meat-centric diet. According to a study done by the UN, eating less meat actually has more environmental benefits for the world than driving an electric car. Scholten has been using this information to become more knowledgeable about his meat choices and speaks on behalf of his efforts. 

“I have become very choosy with what meat that I eat,” Scholten said. “I want to make sure that it is not beef because a cow that [could have] come from a CAFO (confined animal feeding operation) takes a lot of grain, water, and antibiotics. There were probably pesticides used to raise the corn to graze [the cow]. [Overall], it takes more of an environmental footprint to have a hamburger.”

If the simple act of eating a hamburger has the power to spread negative effects throughout our environment, countless other minuscule acts each day have that same power to do so much damage. 

“There’s so much waste going into landfills now,” Sarah said. “[It’s important to] remember where all of those things are going. Every little thing we do, no matter if it’s using a metal spoon instead of a plastic spoon, has an impact. If we all do little things, it can help.” 

We are living proof that even the small things can have a big impact. If minor, everyday acts like throwing away plastic along with fruit peels have the ability to mar the world for the worse, then the small, positive actions can save the world instead. 

“Humans, as a species, have a massive impact on our planet and the environment,” Sam said. “Anything that we can do to help diminish that and slow down the effects that we’re [creating] is definitely beneficial.”