A college student’s take on the plastic-free lifestyle

Alexandra Golden Reporter

Plastic is everywhere. 

When I decided to try the “Plastic Pledge” challenge and go a week without using any plastic products at all, I didn’t expect it to be very difficult. I didn’t realize until I was trying to avoid it that almost everything in my daily life had involved plastic in one way or another. 

I’d seen some TikTok user be able to be plastic free, so I thought it would be easy, but I was wrong. Very very wrong. I’ve learned we do not realize how destructive our normal is until we have to try to avoid it. 

Being totally honest, I failed as soon as I started. When I went to Dunkin’ for my morning coffee, I hadn’t realized until after I ordered that my drink would be coming in a plastic cup accompanied with a plastic straw. I’d left my reusable metal straw at home and the location weren’t accepting reusable cups since the pandemic started. After one simple coffee order, I’d already lost this plastic free challenge twice. 

It was an instant regret, but going to get coffee was not only more convenient than making it at home. Convenience proved to be a common theme throughout this experience. I noticed throughout the week is that plastic was just more convenient in a sense. That must be why it’s so frequently used and why we it’s so easy to use without even realizing it.

Convenience is easier for us than having to find an alternative, which is why I went to Dunkin’ instead of making coffee. When I went shopping during the week, I forgot I had reusable and did not realize until I was checking out. It was too late to run to my car to get them, so I just used multiple plastic bags instead. Convenience feels more appealing than going that extra mile.

During the week, I also chose to be social by hanging out with friends, typically grabbing coffee in plastic or going out to grab food. This decision did not help and was a part of my downfall. I went out a couple times with friends and when I did, plastic was always be involved. Majority of fast food places use plastic in some shape or form. 

For example, at Chipotle my side of guacamole was in a single use plastic container, as any sides are, and at Taco Bell my drink was in a plastic cup. Along with this, when going to Sheetz for a late night snack or drink, the majority of it is in plastic containers or wrappers as well. But, sometimes you just need an icee to get through the week. The icee came in a plastic cup such as the majority of to-go cups and containers that are considered single use plastic, not saying it can not be used more than once, but I don’t think it’s recommended. 

I did find myself using more aluminum cans instead of plastic during this week. Instead of getting a bottle of pop, I would get a can instead. It was more about replacing plastic with something less impactful to the environment. I also was using reusable plastic cups and containers to store stuff in instead of single use plastic cups and bags. This turned out to be more beneficial in the long run. The only downside was that I had to do the dishes more often since I was using more than before. 

However, I think I made myself sick during this week. Although I was occasionally going out for food, I was trying to avoid using plastic at my apartment as much as I could. I am not saying that those who participate in this trend or lifestyle are not healthy, this is just my experience with it. By trying to avoid plastic, I found myself not eating correctly and sometimes barely anything at all. I know this was not the right alternative looking back on that week. But I like a challenge, so I made it one.

It may seem redundant because there were times I was going out and using plastic, but again I was limiting myself with that too. The main problem with this is usually if I do not feel good, I make a smoothie to eat. All my fruit and frozen fruit was in plastic, so I wanted to use it as little as possible. I did make myself a smoothie once or twice, but not as often as I should have. 

I found myself wondering if I “failed” this week out of laziness and forgetfulness? Yes. I can admit that I was just used to the habit of not having to care or pay attention. I also think being a college student and living in a college town does not have as many resources as other cities or places would have. I have seen people complete this challenge and even live a plastic free full time, but I do not think Kent is made for this lifestyle. I do not believe there were enough resources since the majority of my shopping and eating was at grocery stores and fast food locations. 

On a lighter note, this week opened up my eyes to how wasteful I can be. Was this week a complete success of being single use plastic free? Absolutely not. But, do I know what to work on for the future? Yes. 

I want to make my carbon footprint as little as I can and using less single use plastic will help with that. There is obviously some plastic I can not avoid such as garbage bags and some food packaging, but I know what to look for now when shopping.

Some alternatives that would help reduce single use plastic is using reusable bags while at the store or even using paper bags instead. Also, attending a farmers market and getting fresh produce there would help. This way the plastic bag or container fruit is usually bought in is not necessary or used.  

Alexandra Golden is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected]