Due to recent Covid-19 precautions, the amount of trash in the United States has increased. Food is being packaged in to-go containers with plastic utensils, because people are no longer eating inside restaurants. But this has nothing to do with students at UW-Whitewater, right? Wrong. Many campuses, as well as UW-Whitewater, now include take-out food options in order to help limit the spread of Covid-19. The take out boxes are a hard option to avoid. They are the only way students are allowed to take food to the safety of their dorm room. However, there is something else that is being used along-side these take out boxes: plastic, single-use utensils. Every meal students are offered plastic forks, spoons, and knives, that are all individually wrapped. The temptation of having something so convenient is overwhelming. However, consequences come with the act of grabbing a plastic utensil before heading out the door. The environment was not made to handle the disposal of so much plastic, and the earth is paying for it. Whitewater students’ plastic utensil waste is unnecessary, but students can minimize the waste by opting for reusable utensils.
Too many plastic, single-use utensils are being used by Whitewater students. The most common meal plan allows students to eat the university’s food 19 times per week. So, let’s say a student uses twelve forks, five spoons, and three knives per week. This may not seem like much. However, by the end of the school year they would have used about 660 utensils. Now let’s say fifty percent of current students make that same choice. This would mean that this year alone Whitewater students will contribute over three and a half million plastic utensils to the landfill.
The impact students have on waste created by plastic, single-use utensils is worthy of attention. The mindset that it’s just one small fork that can not do any real harm is incorrect. When taking the total amount of utensil waste on campus into consideration, that mindset becomes a very dangerous way of thinking.
It is evident that many utensils are being thrown out. What’s the harm? Well, waste does not just disappear when we put it in the trash. It ends up in a landfill, where it will sit for hundreds of years. Plastic is known for its extremely slow decomposition process. We are creating more trash than we have places to put it. The extra trash can end up in the oceans and rivers. This causes contamination of the water. Animals were not designed to live among the waste. The clear wrapping that a plastic utensil comes in also presents a danger to animals living in the water. It is very difficult to see this clear waste, and it can be mistaken for food or water. There is no reason to add to the current trash problem by using plastic, single-use utensils when there are easy solutions.
The best solution to this problem is buying reusable utensils. The investment in one or two sets of reusable utensils, that can be cleaned and last for years, makes a big difference. By investing the few extra dollars into purchasing reusable utensils a student would eliminate over 650 plastic utensils from going to the landfill in one year alone. Work to fight the convenience and instant gratification received from using plastic utensils. The plastic, single-use utensils that are provided in the dining hall do not cost students any extra money, but the earth does have to pay for our choice. Switch to using reusable utensils.
If some students are not able to purchase utensils there is another solution. Any student can significantly limit the amount of utensils they put into the landfill by washing and reusing the
plastic ones offered at the dining hall. The plastic utensils are durable enough to last way more than one time. However, most people view them as a single use item. Therefore, that is what they have become. Whitewater students can change that perspective. Reusing the plastic utensils gives students the opportunity to decrease the amount of utensils that they are contributing to the landfill without spending money. This will also help end the perspective that the utensils are a single-use item.
Students, the pandemic has given us an excuse to take the easy way out and ignore the negative impact we are making. Yes, it is safer to take food outside or to a dorm room. However, the plastic utensil is not necessary. When there are options like purchasing utensils or reusing the plastic ones, there is no excuse to be throwing out plastic utensils after only using them once. If Whitewater students start the change, we can set the good example for other college campuses that have also started wasting more plastic utensils since the pandemic. Anyone can choose to be part of the change. Most people want to leave a mark on the earth after they die. Nobody wants their mark to be all of the plastic they used still sitting in the landfill. Students, do your part. Avoid unnecessary utensil waste.
-Freshman Business Major Elizabeth Folsom