Researching plastic waste for a class presentation last semester at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work and watching “The Devil We Know” caused my existing passion for environmental change to hit rapid growth. Waste management, waste reduction, plastic production, water pollution, and air pollution began to have the spotlight in my world before I got to the Texas Capitol for my social work legislative internship. Adopting these causes has been both enthralling and distracting. I’m conveniently analyzing policy at The Texas State Capitol amidst my growing engagement with ‘green.’ Meanwhile, the evidence of environmental problems is everywhere I look. The animated tango between the lens of my growing passion for environmentalism, the reality of pollution, and my surrounding political environment is picking up speed.
All the toxins in our food, litter in the sea, and chemicals in the air are worth being concerned about. The plastic bag I threw into landfill garbage 5 years ago could be grazing the side of a whale’s back right now. Imagine the plastic straw I slurped Brown Bag Deli’s delicious lemonade out of 5 years ago being the same one wedged deep in this sea turtle’s nostril… Or, just think, it could have been yours. Depending on where our plastic garbage ends up, it can take anywhere from five years to thousands of years for the material to break down. Even when plastic does break down, it doesn’t fully engage with the environment like other materials but rather breaks down into smaller toxic pieces that have harmful health and environmental effects.
Ubiquitous, the evidence is. It’s everywhere. Delving into this information has consequences. I used to be able to grab barbeque at the restaurant down my street, but now all I can think about is the Styrofoam to-go plate and how it will never biodegrade. I went for a gyro the other day and the restaurant owner’s adorable toddler was playing with a stack of plastic cups in the corner. I was deprived of child cuteness because I was busy brooding over the 10 wads of plastic in her hands getting their single use with no blue rectangular receptacle in sight.
Luckily for me, I’m growing spirited about an arena that needs political attention while interning at the Texas State Capitol. I am learning what it looks like to pass state laws, but yet I feel powerless when it comes to my new passion. I can barely convince my friends and family to stop microwaving their food in Styrofoam, but more needs to be done. Real solutions are bigger picture – for example, cessation of Styrofoam production. Environmental change doesn’t seem high on the priority list at the Texas Capitol, but why does that surprise me? Today my coworker (bless him) gave me a plastic water bottle to recycle for him across the street. The Texas State Capitol does not have effective recycling, so I had to leave the building to put the plastic bottle into a reliable bin. The Capitol is a place where people tour to learn about our state, a place to provide examples and set norms. Yet, the lack of environmental effort in this political hub reflects ignorance of current global problems.
People are concerned with leaving empires for their children and going to the doctor on a regular basis for their well-being… but oftentimes don’t listen to information about the health effects coming our way due to environmental problems. I mean, people don’t even try to figure out the right trash can to put their waste in at a restaurant. With all that I am learning at the Capitol, I still don’t know how to make people listen to such an important issue. I am trying to learn, trying to grow, but as I look around, things still look the same. It feels like I can’t grow fast enough. I want a lifetime of knowledge, but can I have it 10 years ago?
by Sophie Creede, intern in the Texas Legislative Study Group
Article was originally posted on University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, Austin Legislative Internship Program and has been re-published with permission by all parties
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