UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Let’s get sustainable—as college students

Some members of my family still drink from plastic water bottles every day. Each morning they reach for those convenient bottles—the ones made of plastic, wearing plastic, bought encased in plastic—and go about their day. Once finished, the bottle gets disposed of in the trash or recycling, and the cycle repeats with each rise of the sun. 

To many, this is part of human culture, as normal as eating an apple or watching the news. To others, this might offer pause. I once heard my brothers bickering over the current debates surrounding the use of single-use plastic water bottles. They asked to the air in front of them, “Why do people have such a problem with plastic water bottles, but not soda or other drinks?” They deemed it hypocritical. 

I answered this question to their dismay, as it was never intended to be answered. The reason people have more of a problem with plastic water bottles is because water is more accessible today than it’s ever been. Many people have filtered water from their fridge, filters on their tap water or have tap water that is safe enough to drink without filters. Furthermore, water fountains and water bottle refilling stations are becoming increasingly more common—we have several placed throughout the UMass Boston campus. 

This means it is not too difficult, for most, to find clean water they can fill a reusable water bottle with. Until there are refillable stations for soda and other drinks located throughout communities, we can’t expect people to put down the plastic without giving up their favorite drinks—and that may very well cause a riot.  

So, what’s the point? My point is that environmentalists and people who care about the environment expect others to use less plastic water bottles because, to be frank, it’s not that hard. There are better options available, and unless you don’t have access to clean drinking water, which is a valid excuse but not the standard in the U.S. right now, then reusable water bottles are accessible. In fact, it’s likely cheaper to fill up a bottle at home or at a public filling station than to repeatedly buy packs of plastic ones. 

This is not a new or groundbreaking idea, but what I’d like to propose is that living sustainably in other areas of life is also not that hard—it just takes a little research. I’m not going to waste words here convincing people to care about the current state of our environment. No matter the argument, I’ve learned people are slow to change their lifestyle choices when their current products are cheap and reliable. So instead, let me convince you that a less wasteful lifestyle can be cheap and reliable, and that’s coming from a college student. 

Many products people use every day are never given a second thought. But have you ever pictured how many plastic toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes you go through, times 330 million? And that’s just the United States. There are, however, other options. I currently use a wooden toothbrush that came with an order of my toothpaste tablets for free, and it’s lasted just as long as any plastic one. While it would be great to purchase these every time at a local hippie store, that’s just not realistic. I’ve seen them for cheap at places like Target and Marshalls, and even cheaper on Amazon. I’m not fighting the Amazon battle today; if it gets you to trade out your otherwise plastic products, you do what you gotta’ do. I’d just recommend seeing if you can afford it elsewhere first. 

I mentioned it briefly, but I use toothpaste tablets instead of plastic tubes of toothpaste. I bite and chew a tablet for a few seconds, and it foams up into a similar consistency to toothpaste. The brand I use is called “Bite,” but I’m currently in the process of trying other brands that are cheaper. The tablets I use right now come in packs of 124 or 248. 

To be frank, I sometimes only brush my teeth once a day, so the pack of 248 lasts me at least half the year. When’s the last time a tube lasted six months? Another great option, however, would be to use a tablet in the morning and regular toothpaste in the evening, or vice versa. This way your products are lasting longer, you’re saving money and you’re still using less plastic. 

Now listen closely—shampoo and conditioner bars. I know hair care is where people do not skimp out, but my hair bars are the best products I have ever used for cleaning and softening my hair. I use the brand “dip,” and with this company I have never felt like I’m sacrificing hair care for the sake of the environment. Additionally, these bars last me a ridiculously long time. I opened new bars in June, and they are still going strong today; the conditioner bar still has at least half left. If you’re curious how they work, it’s pretty basic: Lather the shampoo bar into your hair, wash it out, then lightly run the conditioner bar over your hair, let it sink in, and wash it out. 

Depending on your hair needs, I have seen brands that specialize in certain hair types. For instance, there’s a brand called “ethique” that has hair bars designed specifically for curly hair. I can’t speak personally to those, as I don’t have curly hair and haven’t used them, but I always say what’s the harm in trying? If you don’t like them, you don’t like them. I have ordered my dog’s shampoo and conditioner bars from “ethique,” however—his shampoo “Bow Wow Bar” and “Pawfector™ Softening Solid Dog Conditioner”—and I love them. 

I have also ordered something called “bar concentrates” from this brand, and I believe this should be the future of skincare for those who like liquid products. I purchased a bar concentrate for body lotion and hand soap, and by adding boiling water to these bars, they melt down into a liquid product that can be poured into a reusable jar with or without a pump. There you have it—body lotion and soap without plastic packaging. I purchased them on sale for $4.50, but they are now available for $10 at full price. 

In addition to bar concentrates, they have plastic-free body bars, cleansers, scrubs, lip balms, lipsticks and deodorants. They are not the only brand with these options, though. My favorite plastic-free deodorant of all time—and I’ve tried a lot—is the coconut vanilla scented Native deodorant that comes in cardboard packaging, available at Target. But I won’t lie, this product is expensive. That’s why trial and error and product exploration is key to finding sustainable products that work for you. 

Living sustainably is not about switching every single product you use for something plastic-free or natural. It’s about switching products where and when you can, especially when you first start out. Like with plastic water bottles, people make this change because it’s something easy they can do. Think about your other products in the same way. 

Furthermore, try not to give up on the whole endeavor if you try one plastic-free product that you don’t like—they’re not all made the same. Research brands, read reviews, try samples first and if you find one you like in your budget, you can relax and settle into that routine. Yes, this takes a little more effort than merely filling up your bottle, but after this initial exploratory phase it’s as easy as clicking “order” or picking up your products at the store. 

We’ve become so used to every need, every want and every purchase being easy, fast and convenient that the slightest challenge to this ideology feels like a lot. It’s hindered reality. The little bit of extra effort it takes to limit our use of single-use plastic is not a lot. Here’s what is—everyone’s combined effort to limit plastic times 330 million.

About the Contributor
Skylar Bowman, Managing Editor