The Final Straw

Picture this –– It’s a vibrant, summer day. A perfect 72 degree temperature with a brisk, light breeze. You’re enjoying the beautiful weather and spontaneously decide to embark on a vacation with a group of your closest friends to your favorite beach destination. For me, I’ve always loved visiting Panama City Beach, especially since I’ve spent two years of my life living on PCB. What is considered to be “The World’s Most Beautiful Beaches,” PCB is home to white-sand shorelines with a sugary consistency that stretch roughly nine-miles across the Gulf of Mexico. Once a fan-favorite tourist destination for families and especially college students planning a Spring Break vacation, PCB has recently been in the worst state it has ever been in. Why? Well, the extravagant spring break “celebrations” attract hundreds of thousands of college students, meaning thousands of pounds of trash is accumulated throughout the springtime. This contributes to the pollution of the ocean and ultimately global warming. Now, you are probably wondering how ocean pollution corresponds to deforestation. In short, it is not immediately connected, but when looking at the full picture and the lifecycle of a product, the ocean is mainly affected throughout the manufacturing processes. When a product is being manufactured, or even during the construction phase of a building, water is used in excessive amounts. As a result of the water-usage, companies must dispose of this water somehow, and with their “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” thought process, the ocean is unfortunately often times the final destination for the wastewater. Consequently, many species of aquatic plants and animals are suffering due to the improper disposal methods of wastewater. As a result, coral is constantly suffering by becoming bleached and it’s happening because of the constant dumping of contaminated water into the ocean. Annie Leonard said it best when she implied that “there is no such thing as ‘away.’ When we throw anything away, it must go somewhere.” Ocean pollution and coral bleaching could be considered wicked problems due to the fact that each ocean is unique in its pollution patterns, and there are no major solutions other than “ocean clean-up crews” spearheaded or endorsed by many celebrities you see online such as Cameron Dallas and Chrissy Teigen.

As part of a solution to the immense ocean-pollution, I feel as though city-workers in charge of cleaning up trash, not only on the beach but in all communities, should begin collecting, sorting, and recycling different recyclable materials similar to the process Oklahoma State University employs through the sustainability office. During our visit to the sustainability office, I was able to learn about the different methods used to ensure there is a more sustainable future for our campus. First, we toured the main facility where the upholstery shop, paint shop, and A-frame signs are created. We learned about the disposal process of furniture that belongs to OSU and how each item is repurposed and goes to be resold before parts are disassembled into scraps. We finished the tour with an in-depth explanation of how waste is sorted and compacted through multiple compactors provided by the university. After seeing how we are able to process waste efficiently for our campus, I instantly thought about the impact we could have on reversing global warming if we were to implement these practices around the nation. By doing so, we could keep the plastic out of the ocean and regulate wastewater disposal laws for the betterment of the worlds environment. All it takes is to actually implement these practices rather than constantly spew out ideas and theories without acting upon them. My question to you is, what would be the final straw that would get you to act upon and implement these practices in your daily life? Afterall, a journey of a thousand miles requires you to begin with a single step.

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How Can We Change Our Ways?

Although I have not always known what a wicked problem was, I have this feeling that I have always known that there are problems in our world that we don’t necessarily have an answer to. We can come up with as many solutions as we can imagine, but it all comes down to our culture, our society and mainly our morals. I have talked about the problem of packaging waste, whether that is with food, consumer goods, or just everyday materials and just from the time I have started thinking about this problem I have come up with many ideas. We could start to emphasize and regulate that packaging is both recyclable and has been recycled or we could start implementing quick acting biodegradable packaging that was made from recycled materials, specifically materials of nature. But after taking time to really think about the impact this would have on our world, I started thinking about the constrictions and barriers that would turn these ideas down, very quickly. These barriers, or cons, outweigh the ideas for solutions, or pros, from big businesses to small mom and pop stores. People want the cheapest material for packaging that they can find because it is something that they wouldn’t buy if they didn’t have to, since it gets thrown away. So, another wicked problem that I thought of, while thinking about the other problem I am pursuing, that is the wicked problem of product pricing. We always think about how and why people cannot afford the simple necessities of everyday life and a large argument for that is because we live in a world, where everything is overpriced. I have come to really start to understand wicked problems at their root, and that is not just the definition of it, but the reason that we have wicked problems in our world, especially wicked problems that should not exist. I have come to believe that the root of these problems originate from human behavior, desires and competitiveness. 

            The sustainability office visit really opened my eyes to the incentives of being sustainable. It also made me realize how important and mindful it is to change your lifestyle, usually in simple ways. I didn’t realize how serious the university took sustainability and ever since I learned the easy ways that the university practices sustainability, I have started to notice them. From turning off lights when you leave a room to turning off the air conditioning once everyone has left a building. I learned how easy it is to save money in places where you wouldn’t think there was any money to save. “If the efforts that I saw didn’t exist,” we would be paying more in tuition, have less horticulture across campus, be increasing the pollution in Stillwater, creating waste in massive amounts, wasting money on new furniture, and so much more. I found the upholstery shop very interesting, I didn’t know that they reupholstered furniture across campus, and I guess that’s a good thing because you cannot tell that the furniture in residential halls, offices, buildings, and in dining halls are repurposed. I’d say that if we didn’t have such a huge emphasis on sustainability, not just on campus, that we would be predicting a faster and more current state of emergency. I just wonder why more campuses, businesses and society in general don’t have such a large emphasis on sustainability in everyday life.  

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Quicker than Quick

“Faster than fast, quicker than quick. I am Lightning.” This quote is from the movie Cars, but it made me think about fast fashion. Its quick, its lightning fast and consumers don’t slow down to think about the people who make the clothing. A second wicked problem related to my fast fashion wicked problem is sweat shops. The U.S. is sourcing their apparel in other countries and paying them inadequately. The working conditions are not in good shape and the employees are working long hours for low pay. You may ask, “why do they work there if it’s so bad?” The answer is that there isn’t any other job for individuals to work at.

The sustainability office was interesting. It was pretty cool to see and learn that OSU thinks about what else instead of chucking it into the garbage. I learned that OSU started with simple changes like lights and computers and ended up saving LOTS of money. I thought that was pretty cool because that is something EVERYONE can do; it wasn’t something crazy. I think a lot of the time people think they can’t do sustainable things because its too hard. The recycling center showed us that we can do it! It’s a simple place to start. If everyone gave up when they tried to recycle, or the recycling center didn’t do what they did then OSU wouldn’t be as beautiful as it is. We would have a lot more waste sitting around, and we wouldn’t be able to maximize or exhaust all of our opportunities. 

Class, do you know who made your clothes? Do you know what factory it came from? Does your favorite store share these answers?

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Fight For Accountability

How often do you hold people accountable for their environmental impact? It is easy to tell your friends to recycle or turn off the lights when they leave the room, but your environmental fighting shouldn’t stop there. We tent to only look at the individual scale when we try to make change, but we should be looking beyond that. Did you know that nearly 40% of carbon emissions in the United States come from our buildings? That is a staggering number when you think about it, but do you want to know another wild fact? Nearly 90% of carbon emissions that newly constructed buildings will produce from 2015-2050 will be a result of the building materials and their embodied carbon footprint while the remaining 10% of the emissions will be accounted for in the operations of the building. For those of you who aren’t aware, the term embodied carbon is related to the carbon footprint that an individual material takes to be produced, transported, and used in any field. That is a massively wicked problem that we must tackle to make a better tomorrow for everyone who gets the opportunity to see it. We should take a stand and let big corporations know that we disapprove of these numbers and make a change to save and preserve the only environment we have.

I know what you’re thinking, these fields are large and don’t affect my life, give me something that I can relate to that involves my everyday life. What do you think about the clothes you’re wearing right now? How about the materials and finishes in your home/work that you interact with on a daily basis? There are many chemicals and materials that go in to these products, over 82,000 registered chemicals by the EPA in fact. Out of these materials, only 650 are monitored for toxic release. Only 5 products out of those 82,000 and 650 monitored have been officially banned, that is about 0.00006% of those chemicals. That sounds pretty good right? The problem is, to be put on this list, these materials don’t have to be proven that they are non-toxic, but people have to go out of their way to prove that their own material is bad for you. Right there seems like a big problem doesn’t it? This system makes it difficult to protect the public from these possible harmful products and easy for corporations to push their toxic materials out for years to help their bottom line. In fact, it took 16-66 years for these 5 products to be banned by the EPA because of these backward policies and who knows what else is out there? Oh, and those sweat wicking clothes you wear to the gym, there’s a reason moisture doesn’t attach itself to your fabric. Many are coated with harmful chemicals that just sit on your skin all throughout the day, without testing, and no full way of knowing the impact these cause to not only you, but the environment. If that doesn’t literally make your skin crawl and want you to fight for higher regulation and accountability for these large corporations, I don’t know what will.

I understand that fighting large corporations seems like a daunting task that, and let’s be honest, the average person won’t do anything to try and fight them outside of posts on social media, but we can do things much closer to home to help change our communities for the better. After touring the sustainability office here at Oklahoma State, I learned about all of the things our simple community does to become more sustainable. From reusing old furniture, to recycling unusable furniture and paper products here on site, we help the environment every year and even make money while doing so. I was unaware of the staggering amount of recycled materials we go through on a yearly basis. If we didn’t have these departments, not only would we be spending more money every year, but we would be vastly contributing to the pollution problem and landfills every year. I personally believe that everyone in a community should be aware of these recycling plants and their daily productions. Knowledge of the system is the first step towards getting behind movements and understanding the ease and importance of doing so. I challenge everyone to learn more about your communities recycling programs and look in to what you could do as an individual and a community to help our environment and other seemingly unmanageable “wicked problems” and do one thing towards fixing that a day. I think you will be surprised at how many low effort changes you can make in your everyday life that will make you become a more sustainable individual and community. Go out and make a difference.

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A Better Future for our Generation

My journey in learning how to be more sustainable has improved. It has opened my eyes to see things I didn’t see before, such as all the problems in the world that are affecting us without everyone realizing. My goal is to inform others what I have learned throughout my Wicked Problems course and attempt to make the world a better place one step at a time because if everyone does their part, it makes a huge impact.

I started learning more about fast fashion and how it works, learning more about other problems in the world made me understand that some overlap and could help one another. For example, poverty. People every day are losing jobs, homes, and eventually live on the streets with little to nothing to eat. The problem with fast fashion is exactly that, it’s going too fast and all of these factories are using big machines to produce it. In my eyes, I can see all of these companies helping the poor and giving them an opportunity to work in labor for good pay, while they are producing clothing that is of better quality so there won’t be so much textile waste. This could possibly help both poverty in some aspect as well as slow down fast fashion.

Relating to textile waste, when I was younger I would think about where all of our waste went and if could eventually fill the planet, then laughed and realized there was no way. I now look around me at cities like NYC for example and there is so much waste all over. Society doesn’t realize that not everything is biodegradable and can affect the planet. The visit to the sustainability office was interesting because there were both pros and cons. Mostly pros. It was nice to know we have such an amazing school where they do everything in their power to help the city and furthermore, educate all students to continue to do so after graduating. There were places for recycling, waste, and even upholstery. All I have to question now is, what is everyone doing beyond recycling and using less plastic to really be more sustainable? What is there that our generation can do in order to prepare a better future than what we are looking at now?

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making a difference in sustainable living

I can’t believe we’re starting week five, this semester is already flying by! Each class that passes I find myself finding more and more I can make a change in bettering our future as a whole. While I’ve been recycling since I can remember, actually some of my favorite memories from my childhood include riding with my dad every Saturday morning to the recycling center to sort out our recyclables for the week. Sadly once I moved out I didn’t keep up the trend, until now. When we first started this class I realized what I was missing out on; playing my part in keeping our planet clean, even if it is as small as recycling and reducing my use of non biodegradable items. I’m happy to say over these past few weeks I have started recycling again, using less plastic, and bringing/ using reusable containers such as water bottles, reusable straws, reusable zip locks, and to go containers (re usable ones). While sometimes I think I am absolutely doing nothing I remind myself, if I can do these few things and encourage my peers to do the same we might be able to do our part in helping the planet. I think things such as watching the eleventh hour and the sustainability visit, are so incredibly necessary for students especially students just starting college, moving out and maybe forgetting the simple to- dos to help out. I took away so much from our sustainability visit myself, and I’m so glad I was able to visit and further my knowledge on being sustainable. Before I go into what all I learned I think it’s important to talk about how outstanding our university is in making our campus sustainable and cautious of our environmental impact I thought it was super cool to learn about the money we saved by teachers just making simple changes as turning the lights off and shutting of computers as they exit their classrooms and offices. Another huge take away I took from the visit was how recyclable the staff is as a whole when it comes to furniture and how its against the rules to throw furniture away, I know that in itself makes a huge difference! Moving on, I was just thinking after that visit on how many different wicked problems we might be able to tackle little by little if we re teach what we’ve learned and replacing it with new and better knowledge. Reducing waste; I really thing this is a huge and very impactful wicked problem. I’ve gone to many restaurants that include biodegradable containers, straws, etc. I think this is something I have been looking into and something that would really help reduce our waste to the planet. I am so grateful for this class and all it’s taught me this far on wicked problems and the many different ones we face. So I encourage you look at a wicked problem; is it reducing waste, is it buying more eco friendly clothing or products? Think about what you can change to achieve doing your end on helping our environment…

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Brownies or No brownies?

How often do you come across wood or wood products in your day to day encounters? We are interact with wood somehow and this is why I am choosing to talk about the super wicked problem of deforestation because we all have a part in it. I love a good steak however beef  demand is linked to deforestation in East Asia and China because forest are being cleared to create open land for commercial farming. I don’t know much about palm oil but according to google palm oil is the most efficient source of vegetable oil which us as Americans consume vegetable oil in the majority of our food, just off the top of my head things I eat that contain vegetable oil is french fries, brownies, granola, salad dressing and many other things that I eat daily. Large plantations of palm oils are destroyed just to produce cooking oil that we don’t necessarily know is healthy for us to consume. Trees are also destroyed to produce a product called wood pulp which is used in paper products and many other textiles. Who doesn’t love chocolate? Well guess what, cocoa trees are a part of deforestation. I really had no idea how I contributed daily to deforestation by consuming these products but it really got my attention. I am by no means saying stop consuming meat, oil and chocolate and using paper but more just bringing it to our attention just how much we don’t realize.

On our visit to the sustainability office, upholstery shop and recycling center I learned that it is a new way of things for osu and only has been in existence for a handful of years but we as a university have already done so much. I learned about the process in which the paper and cardboard is processed and bound together after being smashed into squares of material. I thought it was pretty neat that OSU does not purchase fertilizer anymore because we produce our own through a compost pile combined of our own plant matter and horse manure from the round up club. Before the tour Dr. Jayadas told us about the recycling center being completely full of cardboard at one point after OSU move in day and I just think it’s wicked to know that if the recycling center did not exist that the cardboard that one filled the center would most likely have been wasted. My question for the class is how can we limit our footprint on deforestation and attempt to change our ways. 

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