Sustainability: Purchasing Reusable Cutlery and Masks in a Pandemic

Anya Steinmetz, Staff Writer

As college students in the pandemic, we run into the problem of waste every day. It is much easier to use a disposable mask or single-use plastics. However, we all know the tragedies of using these products. It’s time we discuss the ways that we can all change our habits to be more sustainable during this time.

40 billion plastic utensils are used and thrown away each year in the United States, according to Forbes. Americans also use about five hundred million plastic straws per day. To get a sense of the problem, just the straws could fill more than 46,400 school buses every year. Even if it’s just one plastic fork or straw here and there, they add up. Colgate students know all too well that all of the dining locations on campus only offer plastic utensils and straws. An idea that all people should consider is bringing a pack of reusable utensils and a straw with them everywhere they go. Currently,  there are a variety of reusable cutlery sets on the market that come in great packaging. Some of the sets are made from bamboo while others are made from metal. Cases can have fun designs or cool colors. You can pick your reusable utensil set based on your favorite variations. Even the Colgate Bookstore sells reusable cutlery that’s perfect to stick in your backpack. At the time of a once-in-a-century pandemic, the little things can count. You may find joy in pulling out your tie-dye, multicolored utensil set when you next sit down for a meal – plus, you’ll have the security of knowing that you are not contributing to the tons of landfill previously mentioned. 

Another way that people might be able to find contribute is by purchasing reusable masks. Disposable masks are easy, but they have become the newest problem in the world of waste. In just the first three months of the pandemic, Taiwan produced 1.3 billion disposable masks. Assuming that they have all ended up as trash, 5,500 metric tons of plastic masks are now in our landfills or oceans. It has been 10 months since that cut-off was made, but the disposable mask generation has not been slowed down. Luckily, plenty of sustainable brands are producing great reusable masks. Also, just like the cutlery sets, reusable masks come in exciting colors and designs. Personally, I would rather wear a mask that goes with my outfit or mood that day rather than wearing an itchy, boring, blue disposable mask. This simple change can actually make an incredible difference so what’s the use in not trying it out?

Some might argue that buying these products isn’t feasible, especially for college students living on budgets. However, in the long run, the cost of buying a pack of three reusable masks will be much less than the cost of buying a few packs of disposable masks. Some also may argue that it shouldn’t be their responsibility to consume sustainably. They believe that institutions or the government should provide us with these reusable products or at least incentivize the usage of them. Contrary to what these people may believe, New York State currently implements a plastic waste reduction law where plastic bags are not supplied at stores and customers are charged for using the paper bags that are supplied. This is a great start, except it’s not likely that similar laws will be passed regarding plastic utensils or masks, at least not currently. Therefore, it’s on us to change our behavior and hold ourselves accountable for our impact on waste production. 

Not only will we help the environment when we implement these practices into our lives, but we will also make our days a little bit more exciting during these strange times.