The War on Plastic: How Student Environmentalists Are Combatting the Human Footprint

Mimi Levine’s morning routine isn’t too different from other college students’, but it comes with a twist. When she wakes up, she brushes her teeth with her homemade toothpaste, puts on the deodorant she creates using online recipes, and, if she doesn’t have time for a shower, pats her hair down with a concoction of cornstarch and cocoa powder — and that’s before she starts her day. She has a slew of unusual practices, such as upcycling old chopsticks to use as stirrers, collecting wasted straws from restaurants and creating art out of litter. Levine has been called “quirky,” but everything she does has a purpose: to reduce the amount of waste she produces.

Levine, who is from Colorado, isn’t alone, but people like her are few and far between. Only about 34.5 percent of waste in the U.S. is recycled, and the average American generates about 4.35 pounds of waste per day — over 1,500 pounds per person each year. This statistic worries Levine, who calls plastic her “worst enemy.”

But Levine wasn’t always conscious of how her actions impacted the environment. It wasn’t until she studied abroad in Copenhagen that she realized just how far behind the U.S. was ecologically. “[My roommates in Denmark] were so surprised that I didn’t compost and that it wasn’t a normal thing for families in the U.S. to do, and they were surprised about just little things I’d do that I didn’t even realize were wasteful,” Levine says.

Levine began researching how the human footprint affects the planet. What she found were harrowing statistics, such as the fact that one hamburger patty uses as much water as two months of showering and that Americans use enough straws in one day to fill up 125 school busses, according to NPS. “I can’t even imagine one bus full of straws,” Levine says. “How is this possible and how is this OK? It’s crazy to think that there’s an island out in ocean that’s twice size of Texas made completely out of plastic, and I just don’t understand how people are OK with it.”

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