In spring 2022, PC Dining announced its plans for Eco To-Go, a program that allows students to use reusable to-go boxes in Ray instead of wasteful single-use containers. While the initiative is supported by many students, others complained that it is inconvenient. Considering the significant environmental impact of paper and plastic, which these containers are made of, this is an ignorant complaint given our current ecological state.
While some may argue that these boxes aren’t environmentally harmful because they can be recycled, this is not the case. It is important to reduce our consumption before recycling, which is why the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” is in this order. First, we’re supposed to reduce, then reuse, and finally recycle, meaning that recycling is not the solution.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2018 only 8.7 of plastic was recycled, leaving plastic in landfills and oceans. There is a significant impact of plastic pollution on our marine ecosystems. It’s estimated that every year, eight to 10 million metric tons of plastic enter our oceans. The effects of this are devastating, as plastic breaks down to form microplastics, which many small organisms mistake for food. This is also an issue in terms of biomagnification, as organisms who consume these organisms indirectly ingest this plastic. This is one of the reasons why scientists have recently discovered microplastics in human blood for the first time.
Paper to-go containers are not as harmful as plastic, however, they usually cannot be recycled because they’re too dirty and saturated. Here at PC there is an even bigger underlying problem. Even if we were to recycle these to-go boxes on-campus, there is no guarantee that they would actually be recycled. At PC, a lot of our recycling is contaminated, which means it’s brought to landfills instead of recycling plants. Many students are unaware of this problem and continue to recycle incorrectly by putting trash and unrinsed recycling into the bin, resulting in contamination.
Plastic production is also directly related to the fossil fuel industry. It is estimated that eight to 10 percent of our oil consumption is used to produce plastic. This means that plastic is not only a pollution issue but a fossil fuel issue. By continuing to use plastic products, we support the fossil fuel industry, which continues to destroy our planet and contribute to climate change.
There is also a significant amount of water used in plastic production. It is estimated that 22 gallons of water are required to produce just one pound of plastic. This poses a water conservation issue as water is a finite resource. Recently, we have been experiencing droughts across the country. Natural disasters like these are only projected to increase in severity and frequency as climate change worsens.
Vulnerable countries will experience these consequences the worst because of our irresponsible water use, despite releasing significantly less emissions than wealthy countries and contributing the least to climate change. It is ignorant to complain about carrying around a reusable to-go box when there are people who are struggling with access to a basic human need because of our actions as a developed country.
The reusable to-go boxes help PC students minimize their environmental impact. While it may be seen as a burden to some students, it’s a simple way for us to decrease our ecological footprint. It is selfish to continue to contribute to environmental issues when we are not impacted as severely, and it is better for us to make these sacrifices and be inconvenienced now before we are too late.