How easy is it to reduce my plastic footprint?

Environment Illinois intern Cate Osborne reflects on the challenges to reducing single-use plastic use as a busy college student.

Staff | TPIN

As a college student, I’ve learned about the problems of plastic pollution and work hard to reduce my everyday plastic footprint, but it can be hard. Single-use plastics can feel like they’re everywhere, and sometimes they are unavoidable. At the same time, by being conscious of my plastic footprint and intentionally practicing habits that reduce my plastic waste, I am taking small steps to reduce plastic use and sharing my values through my actions. 

Some habits are things that everyone can practice, whether or not you’re a student like me. When I’m headed to class in the morning, I always carry my coffee in a reusable cup that I have in my room. Throughout the day, I keep a reusable water bottle with me that I can refill, rather than going through multiple plastic water bottles that end up as waste at the end of the day. It’s one-time investments like coffee mugs, water bottles or thermoses that make a difference everyday when I replace single-use plastics with more environmentally friendly options. 

With a busy schedule as a student, I often leave in the morning and pack for a long day when I’m not sure what time I’ll be back home. Days like these call for many reusable containers filled with snacks like fruit or cereal I keep on hand for long lectures. I also often carry a “Windy City” tote bag with me around campus, filled with schoolwork, winter layers or other items, depending on what my day calls for. 

As much as I try to minimize my use of single-use plastics, sometimes it’s impossible to avoid them. Not all of the coffee shops I go to will take my reusable cup, and oftentimes I end up with a plastic cup that becomes waste. If I order takeout food one night on my way home, I typically pick up a plastic foam container, with plastic silverware, all in a plastic bag at the restaurant, which ends up in the trash. If I order anything online, it’s almost always wrapped or shipped in plastic packaging, which ends up as waste. Despite my intentions and actions to avoid these plastics, they are so pervasive in our daily lives that it is almost impossible to do. 

The individual actions that I take to reduce my plastic footprint make a difference. I make choices everyday to be environmentally conscious, and by doing so, I am also showing my friends how to be aware of their plastic footprint and its environmental consequences. Of course, I can only do so much when the businesses, restaurants and corporations that I interact with and support increase our collective single-use plastic footprint. It’s up to corporations that make decisions about the packaging of their products, and others to cut back on their single-use plastics so that we can reduce our collective plastic waste. But, I’m doing as much as I can to make a difference in my plastic usage and to protect the environment, and every little bit helps.


Cate Osborne

Environment Illinois Intern

Emily Kowalski

Outreach & Engagement Manager, Environment Illinois

Emily manages the marketing and public engagement strategy for Environment Illinois's campaigns, including our campaign to protect the Great Lakes from plastic pollution. Emily lives in Chicago where she enjoys knitting and biking.

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