Student Blog

The student section is for the expression of opinions related to the topics of sustainability, the environment, and economics.  Young voices are important for the future of Idaho and the world, and students are encouraged to submit articles for the ISEC blog.  Please inquire by email to

The Road to Sustainability

Erin, Environmental Science Student, 2022

When I think about sustainability, I think mostly about waste and waste reduction.  Trash isn't everything, but it is a visible sign of our unhealthy way of mindlessly consuming and throwing things out, ignoring the end results. When I was young, I knew nothing about sustainability and the environment - it wasn't something we talked about at my house. I was in the sixth grade when I first learned about recycling. I was at a family friend’s house, and we were finishing our snacks. I asked where her trash bin was, and she pointed to the laundry room. When I went to throw away my trash, I saw they had four different trash bins. My first thought was, “Wow, they create a lot of garbage, I guess.” I was wrong. Each bin was meant for a different kind of trash. They had bins for regular trash, plastic, paper, and aluminum. I don’t think I had ever seen this in someone’s house before. 

I started to bring up the topic of recycling with my mom. We talked about what and why people recycle. At first, they were short conversations, but after being at my friend’s house, I wanted to recycle, too. It took a little while until my family got some recycling bins. My mom told me that she wasn’t sure how well our family would recycle. She was right - the first year or two of recycling was a little rough. We had to do some research on what items we could recycle and where we needed to take our recycling. Frequently, we had to bring my brother and dad to the garbage and ask why a plastic item or aluminum can was in it. (They can handle a little nagging for the planet, right?!) We weren't as good as our family friends, but we got there eventually. 

Recycling was my family’s first real step into environmental sustainability. Our next step was to research and start swapping some of our home essentials for more sustainable products. Our first swap was using reusable water bottles and reusable grocery bags. We stopped buying cases of single-use water bottles and utilized our stainless-steel water bottles. We also picked out some nice reusable cloth grocery bags. According to, “The United States uses about 100 billion plastic bags per year, with the average person using between 350 and 500.” Many of these plastic bags are thrown away and end up in landfills and the ocean for hundreds of years, ending up as microplastics that continue to pollute the environment. That was ridiculous, and we all wanted to do better. I can’t say my family is perfect in using our cloth bags -- we have a hard time remembering to grab the cloth grocery bags every time we go into the grocery store, and often only remember at checkout.  But when that happens, instead of letting ourselves off the hook by saying we'll remember next time, we rush back to retrieve the bags from the car.  A little hassle goes a long way to change an old habit.

In my family, my mom and I have been the most interested in taking acting. We look at websites and follow sustainability Instagram pages to find new and fun ways to reduce our waste. My family now uses reusable sandwich bags, straws, napkins, water bottles, dryer balls, and grocery bags. Now that I'm away at college, I still continue to find ways to become more eco-friendly. Most plastics are no longer recyclable, with only those labeled as #1 or #2 possible for recycling now, and facilities are limited. So I buy less plastic or no plastic items whenever possible and recycle what we still can - aluminum, metal cans, milk jugs, and cardboard. If there is a choice between buying my produce in plastic or in paper or cardboard, I always choose cardboard, or use my mesh bags for unpackaged produce.

I encourage my friends to be more eco-friendly (without bombarding them, of course) by throwing out a suggestion of using a reusable water bottle instead of a single-use plastic one or bringing a collapsible, reusable straw when we go out. Hauling around a water bottle can be inconvenient, so in high school, my friends and I bought matching water bottles and decorated them. My favorite is an orange bottle with a green cap--it looks like a fat carrot. I think it is much easier to remember to bring a water bottle with you when it is special and personalized.  

Personally, I carry around a few reusable products, even if it might look silly to someone else. When I go to campus or go on a trip, I always have my reusable water bottle, chopsticks, silverware, and straw. They are so small, so why not bring them with me? I also have found that thrift shopping is much more eco-friendly than buying new clothes.  The clothing industry uses an enormous amount of water and is a dangerous source of water contamination, as well as creating 16 million tons of waste in US landfills alone. Thrift shopping means less new clothing is produced and it keeps that clothing out of landfills. Thrifting isn’t just more eco-friendly, it's more fun than shopping online or in a mall. I like finding old pieces and putting them to use again. 

Keeping the environment clean has always been a soft spot for me. I always notice how much trash there is. I get annoyed when I see trash sitting next to a trash bin or when I see random trash on a highway or in the middle of nowhere. It is saddening to read articles stating how trash has destroyed some of our ecosystems. Trash is inevitable but it needs to be handled correctly and can be reduced in so many ways. 

The little spark of wanting to recycle when I was little has moved me on the path of studying Environmental Science in college. When I am out of college, I would still like recycling and waste minimization to be a major part of my life’s work. I enjoy finding easy, fun ways to make people’s lives more sustainable. Whether this is in small ways, such as helping people switch to reusable water bottles or something larger, like cleaning up the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” I want to make contributions to a sustainable environment. I'm not yet sure what job opportunities there will be, but I decided to study Environmental Science so I can help find ways to make the world cleaner and help people find more sustainable lifestyles.

I will always be on the road to sustainability. There is still so much uncovered ground still waiting for me.