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  • Writer's pictureCassidy Drew

How I Became an Environmentalist

Until you have to deal with all of your trash, you don't realize how much trash you 'create'. 2018 was the first time I lived on my own in an apartment during my semester abroad. Between cooking my food and exploring my new city, I began to notice just how much waste was around me. The end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018 coincided with the release of a few major environmental documentaries being released on Netflix. I ate those documentaries up. (I will have reviews of some of my favorites up on the site soon!)

2018 was also the height of the trash jar. I tried to go grocery shopping with zero plastic and I think I left the store with a single banana. That was it - everything else had plastic of some sort. I tried my best to buy the biggest containers I possibly could to reduce my plastic usage. I dove into going plastic-free and quickly found the trash jar. I was fascinated with the idea but I quickly realized that the trash jar was far too limiting for me. I needed to figure out a more realistic way to reduce my waste.

Growing up, my family had a garden and we composted most of our food scraps to put back into the garden. In the summer, we ate dinner based on what was ready in the garden. For the most part, we ate relatively low amounts of packaged food compared to the average person in the United States. My parents chose to put their budget towards eating good, healthy food. As an adult, I now realize how difficult that was. Eating fresh foods is hard and expensive.

I continued to focus on reducing how much plastic I purchased, but then I started having stomach issues. At first, I was able to switch to lactose-free milk. Then, I had to cut out dairy altogether. I started researching the dairy industry and realized how horrific the industry is which quickly solidified my desire to stay dairy-free. I continued researching the environmental impacts on the food we eat and how they were affecting me. A year later, gluten started to affect me too. Eating gluten and dairy-free without plastic as little plastic as possible, is impossible. I needed to give up the label so that I could eat a more balanced diet.

Upon graduation, I had the opportunity to move to a small town in Mexico and help teach English at a small private environmental school. This experience only solidified for me how amazing and creative being an environmentalist is. I witnessed first-hand, the resourcefulness and plentifulness of living in a more Earth-centered life. I fell in love with having my hands in the soil every day. The joy the kids had when they were running around at the river or showing me the grasshoppers they caught. The community I was surrounded by took care of each other, celebrated each other, and spent way more time together than I was used to.

I realized how much less, community-based the U.S. culture was. This is something that has bothered me so much since I came home. I crave the community I had in college. My friend group is incredible and I love every single one of them so much. I miss the coffee chats and countless hours at the table I spent with my family in friends in Mexico. The U.S. is so focused on ourselves, that we are isolated in our own little homes every night after work with all of our stuff.

I grew up in Atlanta and have lived there since returning to Mexico. Atlanta is not set up to support living in a community with others. My commute to/from work ranged from 30 minutes each way to over an hour. Working full-time, I did not have the energy to then drive another 30 minutes to spend time with my friends. It also is really hard to make friends as an adult (like really hard). My understanding of sustainability includes social sustainability as well as environmental sustainability.

I graduated with my Masters in Sustainable Leadership this past August. Sharing my passion with my colleagues was such a wonderful experience. I want to be able to share this knowledge and my understanding with others. I hope you follow along in growing in the understanding of how focusing on sustainability translates into the rest of the areas of our lives.

There may be one drop in the bucket, but together we can make the bucket overflow.

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