HSU students continue to pursue a zero waste lifestyle despite the additional obstacles presented by COVID-19
Humboldt State University is synonymous with an eco-friendly, green lifestyle. This year, student sustainability values have been put to the test with a nationwide shutdown and a closed campus.
Sage Palacils, freshman at HSU, was raised in a household that emphasized the importance of sustainability and has been living eco-consciously their entire life.
“I’ve been practicing [sustainability] since I was young and the practice, more than the reasons are ingrained in me,” Palacils said. “I grew up really poor and we really didn’t have money to keep replacing things or not be sustainable.”
Since the pandemic began, Palacils’ carbon footprint has been significantly reduced, after they moved to Humboldt and stopped driving. Palacils also found they don’t miss shopping in the massive malls back home in Los Angeles, because they don’t see a need to be flashy this year.
“Since I don’t go out much, I don’t really buy clothes,” Palacils said. “I don’t really shop online. I kind of reuse the same clothes I have because of the pandemic.”
This semester, Co-Director for HSU’s Campus Center for Appropriate Technology Klara Hernandez is attempting to provide students with a virtual substitute for the resources and sustainable living information they would have access to in a normal semester.
“I feel like if I lead by example, people will become aware,” Hernandez said. “[I] just want to show that it’s possible that we can change individually. But at the same time, we have to attack this at the source, the corporations and big businesses, the people in power making the environmental impacts.”
Hernandez originally got involved through their volunteer Friday events, which are not currently offered. The hardest part about being a member and leader of CCAT for Hernandez this semester has been having to turn away eager students because of the HSU’s pandemic policies.
“We have to tell them no and it’s sad,” Hernandez said. “People really want to get involved and get their hands-on experiences, which is what we’re all about – providing that and serving the students, but we’re not able to.”
HSU Waste Reduction and Resource Awareness Program Outreach Director Skylar Fisher believes the pandemic has proved the human race is ill equipped to tackle the much larger issue of climate change.
“[If] we are not capable of responding to something as serious and as widespread as COVID, then we’re not gonna be able to be prepared for climate change,” Fisher said. “I’m very fortunate because I’m not extremely impacted by [climate change] yet, but you see all these communities that are and I think living sustainably is the least I can do.”
Unfortunately, Fisher believes a majority of the sustainability advice floating around the internet comes from insincere influencers who are seeking an easy paycheck.
“I think the current environmental movement is incredibly whitewashed. A lot of people having these conversations have taken it on more so as a fad than as something that they think can actually benefit our greater systems,” Fisher said. “It’s not so much about making a positive impact on the environment, it’s more so buying these products to make more products.”
Practices like upcycling, thrifting, composting and growing your own foods can significantly contribute to a reduced carbon footprint. Fisher emphasized not putting yourself down for things your unable to accomplish, instead being proud of what you did.
“It is impossible to expect everyone to be completely zero waste, but the important thing is to stay as aware as you can and reduce what you can.” Fisher said. “Just being aware, I think that’s the most important thing.”
Given the precautions taken to prevent further spread of COVID-19, living a sustainable lifestyle has become significantly more challenging as stores safeguard their produce in plastic and purchasing in bulk items is no longer an option.
“It’s super hard to get a hold of cheap, quality, low waste products and that has only gotten more difficult as the pandemic has progressed,” Fisher said. “[In the past] zero waste was the way that you lived if you couldn’t afford to waste, but it’s kind of been swapped now because plastic is subsidized, so it’s really easy for everything to be wrapped in plastic products. Which is hard on the consumer who now is blamed for wasting plastic.”
For Fisher, the bottom line when it comes to waste reduction and sustainable living is that we all need to get involved and do our part in order to succeed and for species to survive.
“[Reducing carbon emissions] is something that is very abstract to a lot of people but is very real and we need to understand that this isn’t just a competition to see how little trash we can throw out every week,” Fisher said. “There’s really real ramifications behind our waste output.”