WASHINGTON - Lauren Williams grew up recycling and felt guilty the first time she threw a plastic bottle in a trash can. Now a senior at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia, she doesn't think twice about trashing recyclables when she can't find a recycling bin on campus.
Sometimes she'll print out a 50-page paper only to find she already had a printout in her backpack. Sometimes she leaves the water running while she brushes her teeth in her dorm bathroom. She leaves her cell phone charger plugged into an outlet 24/7.
When she does these things, there are certain facts that are far from her mind. Gas prices are topping $3 a gallon across the country. Some scientists are predicting increasingly intense heat waves, longer-lasting and more devastating hurricanes, bigger wildfires and the spread of disease-carrying mosquitoes.
It may be difficult to consider small consumption decisions, like the ones Williams makes, as direct contributors to the U.S. energy crisis, but they are. Leaving the water running and using a car when other options are available are just two habits that help create the following statistic: The U.S. has only 4 percent of the world's population, yet consumes 25 percent of its energy.
"On a day-to-day basis, I don't think about the environment," Williams said. "Living on campus, it's just a wasteful environment. The library people print out so much, sometimes you feel guilty and then you just accept it."
Zoe Paterson, a student at University of Maryland, is adamant about taking the simple steps she believes will help the environment. She thinks the reason her fellow students aren't doing the same is because they aren't paying attention.
"We installed recyclable bins next to every trash can (on campus)," she said. "It's so simple to place it two feet to the right [of the trash cans] and no one does it. It's an education thing. If you are aware of your consequences, then you are going to recycle. It's hard to believe they don't care. I think they just don't know."
Sarah Roberts, spokeswoman at the Center for a New American Dream, an environmental advocacy group, said teens often don't get the credit they deserve for taking simple steps like recycling. But she also acknowledges that they, like older people, often forget to conserve or recycle if it's not convenient.
"[Students and teens] don't have time to go out of their way and go to the county dump and do their own recycling," Roberts said. "It's too bad when students don't get more involved and call on their campuses to make a difference since climate change is such a hot topic right now."
Often it takes something hitting close to home - a favorite park being ruined or city, like New Orleans being ruined - for people to start paying attention, Roberts said.
This may remind you of the 3rd grade lecture your teacher gave about the three R's (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.) Turns out she was right all along. With the environment, the small, simple steps you take every day actually can help reverse some of the damage that's already been done.
- By Lauren Dake, Medill News Service
ARE YOU READY TO BREAK THE ADDICTION?
So, you've decided you're not going to wait until it hits close to home and you want to know what can you do everyday, starting now, to make a difference? We thought so.
- Check out our carbon calculator and find ways to reduce the amount of carbon you put in the atmosphere each day.
If you don't know where your car's air filter is, figure it out! It could prevent you from putting 800 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and save you $130 each year. Save the earth and buy yourself a new pair of designer jeans
- It can be hard, especially when you're living at home or on a college campus, to control the environment around you, but it's not impossible.
If you're at home, ask your parents to install a water-saving shower head. If you're in college, ask your resident assistant to put recycling bins in the dorm rooms. Encourage others and be aware -- if a recycling bin is right next to the trash can, use the right one!
- Next time you buy books from your campus bookstore, take a closer look.
Besides the high sticker prices, is there anything else you notice? Are the notebooks made from recycled paper? When Maryland's Zoe Paterson noticed her bookstore wasn't using recycled notebooks, she started working with both students and administrators to make it happen. In the meantime, she doesn't buy notebooks, instead using the back of paper taken from recycling bins to take notes.
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