(Jackson, Wyo.) - Jackson Hole Middle School 7th Grader is sick of all the waste that the world creates and after her extensive research this year, it is much worse than she thought. In order to combat the world's trash issue, she wants to change people's behaviors by starting young. Leilani is writing a children’s book on pollution in the ocean. Learn more in her essay below. Learn about the local students who #CombattheSilenceJH here.
*"Waste"ing Away **By: Leilani Johnson*
“Seriously! You're not going to pick that up!?” I say in astonishment. Why
are people so ignorant? In the school’s chaotic hallway someone just threw
a Nutrigrain granola bar wrapper right onto the floor without the slightest
thought about who’s going to pick it up. They know that they could easily
take two seconds to throw it away; however they go on to their next class
assuming someone else will be responsible for them.
How can they not make the connection between their lives and the billions
of others around them; can’t they take 2 seconds to make someone else’s
I quickly bend down, in a rush to grab the wrapper and toss it into the
trash can. As I stand back up I begin to look around me in a sudden view of
clarity: there are so many wrappers, pencils, and papers, everywhere, and
this is only in my school.
Trash is a critical issue the world is facing today; in order to save the
planet we must reduce our individual trash impact on the environment.
*Currently, we accumulate a surplus of trash that is damaging our planet. *Our
lives are packed with busy, day-to-day schedules. When we throw away trash
the action is convenient, yet we aren’t making the connection between
ourselves and the landfill. But why is thinking about our own garbage
relevant to the world around us? Even though we are aware of where our
trash is going, we still ignore the critical problems from our waste.
“The average person generates over 4 pounds of trash every day and about
1.5 tons of solid waste per year”(www.Dosomething.org).
In other words:
- We individually make more than 2,000,000 pounds of trash each year.
- Within four years one person produces enough trash to fill an Olympic
size swimming pool.
- Worldwide we make 35 millions pounds of trash per second (nearly 3
Olympic size swimming pools).
Can you picture Michael Phelps trying to swim in trash? Like the wrapper,
we can’t ignore these statistics; rapidly our world is getting filled with
trash. What used to be clean oceans and majestic landscapes are now
becoming toxic and plasticized; all from our own waste.
“Trash thrown away so thoughtlessly-it’s a sin”(www.poetrysoup.com).
*Trash has become significant problem today since the majority of people
are not acknowledging the waste issue.* Have you ever had to take more than
10 minutes to open a small bag of chips? Not only is having to open
something that small irritating, but if you haven’t noticed; in every
aisle, store, and mall anything you buy is covered in packaging. Since we
have become adapted to a life full of wrappers, and plastic bags, we don’t
see this way of living as an ultimate issue.
“Every year, roughly 102.1 billion plastic bags are used by
In context Americans use just about 3,000 plastic bags per second (The
average 400 trips to the grocery store). Plastic bags are the 4th most
common item thrown in the landfill; just one bag takes up to 500 years to
breakdown and degrade.
Albertsons, Whole foods, Safeway, and Walmart; all have the power to change
the devastation on the planet from plastic bags and packaging. Most grocery
stores in effort to become eco friendly are averting from plastic to paper
bags. This may result in less environmental toxins, however it takes more
energy to make a paper bag then a plastic one; not to mention the amount of
trees it takes to make paper bags as well. However, we can start reusing
bags and recycling them; but only 2% of plastic bags produced are
eventually recycled. So why aren’t we doing anything?
“9 out of every 10 people in a survey said that they would recycle more if
recycling plastics was easier”(LeBLanc).
In other words, plastic is the most difficult type of waste made and
produced. There are an abundance of categories for recycling, and honestly
no one really wants to take time to sort through all of their trash. On the
other hand, we should recycle to save our environment; but we still
continue to choose a quick convenience of throwing our trash in a bin,
rather than a pollution free planet.
Before I understood the critical issue of trash, I wouldn’t even glance as
to what went on the floor. I was ignorant to what happened around me; I
never thought that my contribution of trash was part of an environmental
issue. I believed that I was never part of the problem since I didn’t
experience living in a place where trash was affecting me. I didn’t stop to
be responsible for my own litter, or someone else's. Today I finally
understand the the major crisis of trash today, and that we all need to
acknowledge the consequences from our own waste.
Preventable waste results in a harmful outcome on the ecosystem and to our
own health. In the vast open ocean there is miles deep of shining water
underneath the sky’s surface; but below the crisp image lies tons of
microsized pieces of trash and plastic. These giant swirls of trash (called
gyres) are in the midst of our oceans. Although rumors may say that there
are mountains of garbage floating out to sea, the truth is much smaller
than that; but a greater issue.
Gyres that carry plastic throughout our oceans hold millions of microsized
pieces of plastic (mostly microbeads). Microbeads come from products such
as face wash, toothpaste, and body scrubs. However microsized plastic is
from broken down trash; most commonly pieces are formed from products that
won’t biodegrade (such as styrofoam and plastic bottles). These tiny pieces
of plastic can’t be harming the environment right? Plastic makes up only
about 12% of landfills today, but it easily the most threatening to the
“The plastic wastes that are thrown away into seas every year can kill as
many as 1,000,000 sea creatures”(LeBlanc).
When animals mistake plastic for food the toxins ruin the hormonal balance
needed for them to reproduce. When this happens prey for many animals can’t
continue to replicate a healthy population that can serve the food chain.
According to Science Magazine we could see fishless oceans by 2048. One
simple piece of trash can mean death to our entire ecosystem.
Not only are fish suffering from our lack of responsibility, but you may
look around and realize we are too.
“Most communities spend more to deal with trash than they spend for
schoolbooks, fire protection, libraries, and parks”(Mercola).
Each one of us lives in the false reality that all of our waste magically
disappears when we dispose of it in a garbage bin. But even though a small
piece of garbage is out of your hands, it will be put into someone else’s.
When our trash is thrown “away” it is not going anywhere except coming back
to you. In perspective the trash we throw “away” is really going from:
yourself, to the environment, to your water and your food, then back into
Are we really that naive? The world we share is fragile and needs help; our
planet cannot speak for itself. In time there will be no more crystal clear
lakes, luscious rainforests, green valleys, and sugar white ski mountains.
The valley’s, mountains, and precious oceans, will become landscapes of
trash from our own lack of responsibility. Now is the time to start
acknowledging the waste issue before it affects our own health.
In order to help next generations and the environment we need to address
the vital issue of trash and waste today. Although some may argue that
throwing less garbage away is all we can do to combat against trash
pollution; we can do much more. One way to make a significant difference in
terms of our own waste, is to reduce, reuse, and recycle!
- “The EPA estimates that 75% of the American waste stream is
recyclable, but we only recycle about 30% of it”(Dosomething.org).
- “Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to listen to a full
album on your iPod. Recycling 100 cans could light your bedroom for two
We could make ¼ of the waste currently produced now. By recycling, not only
would there be less toxins and unnecessary garbage in our ecosystem, but we
we would be saving major amounts of energy and money. Today more awareness
of recycling and its importance to save the planet has spread; it is vital
that the benefits of recycling continue to be encouraged towards younger
generations. If everyone was educated and motivated about recycling for a
better future, drastically our world would change.
Imagine: there would be no more unconscious thinking, no more litter beside
road highways, no more news specials about sea turtles getting caught in
plastic rings. No more. Instead we would see our world garbage free, no
longer would there be a plastic bag floating into the view of a perfect
Awareness must continue to spread across the world today about recycling in
order to desist major crisis of trash pollution.
*Making a Change*
Each day you have a choices. Every choice individually has it’s own pros
and cons. However we don’t always focus on making choices that will have a
positive outcome. Our vision of how things can happen can sometimes seem
complicated and out of reach. But until you do something, that vision will
always be dream. Our world is so fragile, yet we treat it like trash. We
can continue to hear and learn about the waste crisis but nothing will
change unless we take action.
One charity that is fighting against trash pollution in our oceans is the
Five Gyres Institute. They have a vision to see a plastic-free and
pollution-free world. To truly accomplish their vision they have a specific
goals in mind: “Our mission is to empower citizens to become leaders in
combating the global health crisis of plastic pollution. Accomplishments
- Launched 16 ocean research expeditions, obtaining never before known
statistic about plastic pollution.
- We employ strategies that work. We advocate new materials, better
designed products, fair legislation, and engage in consumer education.
- Created a Youth Summit, inspiring the next generation of plastic
- Co-sponsored a national microbead bill. It's being debated now!” (
After reading about the achievements of the 5 Gyres Institute, I want to
change the world of trash pollution by taking action.
Currently I am writing a children’s book on pollution in the ocean which I
hope to eventually publish. I am scared of the reactions I may get at the
thought of a 13 year old writing a book: “Why try? Trash is not a real
problem, find something better to do.” Or “ You can’t write a children’s
book! No one will ever listen to you!” I am so worried that my mini act of
influence towards the trash and waste crisis may not even make a
difference. But the fact is that I can make an impact no matter how small.
For, if I don’t do something, who will? Maybe someone else will take action
for me, but it is time that I learn responsibility.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”(Lao Tzu).
You too can make a difference, it just takes one small step to begin an
adventure of a lifetime. Know that with the power of you and I, together,
we can make our world trash free.
Put your act of advocacy towards an organization that speaks for itself.
Invest your pocket change into the Five Gyres Institute’s mission of
eliminating plastic and harmful toxins from the environment. Stand up and
act in favor of our oceans, planet, health, and next generations. Donate to
an organization that will build a better future of making our world
educated about what plastic trash is doing to our oceans. Take a step to
make a pollution free dream a reality.
5 Gyres Institute: www.5gyres.org
Documentaries and Videos:
- “Plasticized an Ocean Catastrophe”
- Lauren Singer TEDx Talk: “Why I Live a Zero waste Life”
- “The Plastic Age: A Documentary ft. Pharrell Williams”
- “In the US, Americans toss 60 million water bottles daily, which is
nearly 700 each minute”(Mercola).
- “An estimated one million birds, 100,000 turtles, and countless other
sea animals die each year from ingesting plastic”(ReuseThisBag.com).
*Easy Waste Alternatives!*
- Plastic Bag> Reusable canvas bags
- Plastic tupperware> Mason Jars
- Paper towels> Reusable Dish Towels
- Plastic Water Bottles> Reusable Water Bottle
- Plastic Straws> Stainless Steel Straws
- Paper Lunch Bag> Tin/Canvas Lunch Bag
Reference from: www.trashisfortossers.com
Dr. Mercola. “10 Shocking Facts about Your Garbage.” Mercola. N.p., 16 May
2015. Web. 27 May 2016. <
11 Facts about Recycling. Do Something .Org. N.p., 25 Apr. 2015. Web. 27
May 2016. .
LeBlanc, Rick. “Plastic Recycling Facts and Figures.” About Money. N.p., 30
Apr. 2015. Web. 27 May 2016. <
The Plastic Age: A Documentary. Dir. Jake Summer. Youtube. N.p., 15 Apr.
2015. Web. 27 May 2016. .
Singer, Lauren. “Zero Waste Alternatives.” Trash is For Tossers. N.p., n.d.
Web. 30 May 2016. .
Worm, Boris. “Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services.”
National Geographic 3 Nov. 2006: n. pag. Print.
*Feature Photo: Leilani Johnson. Pitchengine Communities*
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