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Saving the world, one plastic cup at a time

In response to the growing conflict between economic development and world sustainability, many authors, including a number of our own columnists, have written of the need to reduce our standard of living, cut waste and be considerate of the poorer people in many other countries.

But how should we start?

That is a good question, one, which, we don’t usually answer when we are busy trying to persuade you to just accept the principle.

But supposing you’re persuaded, here are a few concrete suggestions you might try:

1. If you live on campus, instead of walking to or from class, run the distance as much as you can. This gives you exercise (saving you even more time you would’ve spent at the gym), reduces the time you spend out in the sun (decreasing your skin cancer risk) and saves you time (which you can use to get adequate sleep).

Why does adequate sleep matter? It allows you to eliminate the daily cup of coffee from your routine, thus preventing the creation of an empty plastic cup’s worth of trash.

2. Think carefully about anything you purchase; you may not really need it. Any item of merchandise requires packaging — which becomes trash — and uses up the world’s dwindling supply of raw materials to produce.

For example, if your old cell phone is not broken and has a tolerable battery life, do not buy a new one. Likewise, do not buy new clothes except to replace ones that no longer fit or are worn out beyond repair. Same for all other devices, such as iPods, televisions, etc. —if you even need one in the first place, that is.

3. Try especially to reduce your purchase of new electronics, which require all kinds of harmful chemicals and large inputs of energy to run the ultra-precise industrial processes to manufacture them.

According to PC Magazine, an average desktop and monitor are made with 530 pounds of fossil fuels, 58 pounds of chemicals and 1.5 tons of water. With proper care, most new computers will be usable — and run at a tolerable speed — for several years.

4. Regarding the iPod, try humming to yourself in your head instead. It is the quietest and most discreet way to listen to music and doesn’t need batteries or headphones.

5. Re-use plastic water bottles. According to the Agri-Food Authority of Singapore (a government site), only polycarbonate plastics, labeled type 7, will leak any significant amount of the potentially toxic chemical bisphenol-A, though type 1 (PETE) plastic may contain traces.

Look for the number inside the triangular recycling sign somewhere on the bottle. If it is anything other than a one or seven, don’t be afraid to re-use the bottle, as there is no BPA content. A single water bottle can be refilled many times if rinsed thoroughly and kept clean. Be careful to prevent bacteria building up, though. If you are especially paranoid, use a glass bottle.

6. Others before me have advocated eating less meat and more plants, correctly noting that raising livestock is an inefficient use of environmental resources. Take their advice. A good place to try would be Extreme Pita at the Tempe campus’ Memorial Union — they have all kinds of ways to make a vegetarian wrap taste better.

7. Lastly, all other “standard” environmentally-friendly tips — florescent light bulbs, carpooling/buses, etc — still apply.

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