A local landfill might not seem to be the place to go when looking into the future. Take a look around though, and you’ll notice piles and piles of refuse meant for the recycling bin that was just easier to throw away.
That plastic water bottle thrown away today will still be in tact hundreds, if not thousands, of years from now.
In 2005, more than 30 billion plastic water bottles were sold in the United States; only 12 percent of those bottles were recycled.
This is one of many examples of how society continues to live an unsustainable lifestyle.
Living a sustainable lifestyle means more than just recycling and taking the occasional bike ride, it is a worldwide effort to utilize natural resources in an efficient way that benefits the environment.
Examples like these are representative of what sustainability means to the average consumer. Yes, these things do help, but they need to happen on a much greater scale to have an effect on the planet.
According to New York University’s Sustainability Department, the United States sends 500 million tons of solid hazardous waste to landfills and spews 3 million tons of toxic chemicals into the air and water each year.
Eric Barnard, an outdoor education professor at Winona State University, said we need to balance our needs and wants. Taking the time to research the origin of the items we consume and the means by which they are produced could further this understanding.
“Sustainability is simply a buzzword. It’s not a new concept,” said Barnard. “We have just become increasingly disconnected from the natural environment and normal means of acquiring goods and services.”
Barnard feels that the idea of sustainability is being marketed more than adopted.
“We need to focus less on the academic discussions and figure out how we can make everyone buy into using less and thinking about our role in the community.”
America is a melting pot. It’s a country full of mixed races, ethnicities, religions and beliefs, which drastically differs from most other cultures.
“People in less developed countries don't need to consider sustainability because in many cases they are not doing anything that is considered unsustainable. They eat what they need, know where the food came from, and don't have the ability or means to waste like we do,” said Barnard.
To back up Barnard’s view, the U.S. Energy Information Administration released a study revealing that Americans consume six times more energy than the world average.
Lester Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute and author of “Plan B: Mobilizing to Save Civilization,” feels that the constant abuse of natural resources could lead to the demise of our civilization.
Brown stated, during a presentation at the University of Chicago, that overpopulation could lead to a lack of essential resources.
The UN projects that the world’s population will increase to nine billion by 2050. If circumstances don’t change drastically, Brown said, we could be faced with falling water tables, shrinking harvests, eroding soils, rising temperatures and food scarcity.
The concept of sustainability has been derived from social, environmental and economic concerns caused by population and economic growth, as well as the increased use of our natural resources.
With the population of the world increasing every year, food supply levels also need to increase. The fact is, however, the complete opposite is true. When humans abuse the earth and its resources, the most largely affected commodity is food.
Food production is leading to the depletion of various natural resources. It is a vicious spiral of resource abuse that humans simply cannot escape.
Brown believes that advertising is a compelling factor in the average consumer’s tendency toward buying products that are convenient and can be used “on the run.”
“The industry has done a real job on people, especially convincing young people,” said Brown.
Ryan Reidt, a senior at Winona State University, thinks of sustainability as a way to ensure future security.
Reidt cited an example, how we could use crops to help maintain a stable economy.
“The more crops we bring from other countries and incorporate them into our agriculture, the more sustainable our economy will be in the future.”
“It’s more than just reduce, reuse, recycle,” said Brinkmann. “Once we run out of natural resources, they’re gone, and they won’t be back anytime soon.”
Brinkmann believes that everyone can have their own definition of sustainability, but no matter their definition, people need to know that it takes effort to live a sustainable life.
“Instead of buying bottles of water, buy a water filter and drink tap water,” Brinkmann said. “Instead of driving yourself to work or school or wherever, carpool.”
Recycling is one way to combat this environmental crisis, but living a sustainable lifestyle is the most natural, supportive means of maintaining the planet and its natural resources.
Ashley Pennington, the Outreach Coordinator for the Office of Sustainability at the University of Florida, perceives sustainability as a means of maintaining and prolonging our existence here on earth.
Pennington says that society labels hardcore environmentalists as hippies and some common ground must be found between the average consumer and avid environmentalist.
“People see sustainability as hard, inconvenient, and undesirable,” said Pennington. Transformations are starting to happen, but we must open our minds and take action,” said Pennington.
She looks at the sustainability issue as a trickle-down effect. “Once one thing gets off balance, it continues to domino down.”
She believes that if we have any chance of achieving cross-cultural sustainability, it’s “absolutely essential” for the government to get more involved.
Pennington says the best way to do this is by having our global leaders create mandates that help spread the message of sustainability.
Our planet is a delicate, living entity. The manner in which humans live and take advantage of the environment today may lead to the demise of our beautiful habitat.
“We can’t come from just one direction. We need to get the message that we’re in this together,” said Pennington.
Sustainability isn’t a new way to live, but a concept that has been neglected in favor our affinity for things convenient and available. Our society is heading toward sustainability, but has a long way to go in reaching that objective and realizing that it’s not an unattainable goal.