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Demonstrators march on Hilyard St toward downtown. Eugene youth lead a climate strike march on March 15, 2019, ending in a protest at the Federal Courthouse. (Marissa Willke/Emerald)

Fall term is starting on the tail end of one of the largest youth movements in history. The global climate strike on Friday, Sept. 20 was led by students, most notably Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden. All over the world, young people took a stand by demanding climate action.  

Here at the University of Oregon, students are falling back into their school routines. I asked students if the recent climate dialogue motivated them to make their daily habits more environmentally friendly. 

Chris Engel, a freshman living on campus, said he is focused on limiting his waste. “The biggest thing that I’ve done is try to reuse — I use reusable bottles and try to limit my use of plastic as much as I can,” Engel said. 

This shift away from plastic is not a baseless trend. According to NPR, China cut almost all trash imports in January 2018. This was largely due to contaminated recycling that required Chinese workers to sort through it. This left the United States with tons of plastic waste and a big problem. 

The waste that was once sold to China, recycled and sold back to the United States had to be shipped to other countries. Imports were sold to Malaysia and Indonesia before the countries became overwhelmed and turned away imports. Plastics are now being incinerated or are finding a new home in American landfills. Neither method is sustainable, as toxins from incineration are harmful to the environment and landfill capacity is limited. 

Eugene has done its part in limiting plastic use over the years. In May 2013, the city implemented a ban on single-use plastic carry-out bags in all retail establishments. Effective Oct. 1, Portland will require customers to ask for disposable utensils and plastic straws, according to The Oregonian

I approached several UO freshmen and inquired about what they had changed to make their daily routine more sustainable. 

Tyler Matthews uses environmentally friendly transportation to get around campus. “I ride my bike — just to try and minimize impact as much as possible,” Matthews said. “I try to be more considerate in terms of what I’m doing, whenever I’m taking any product that is not recyclable or entirely reusable. I try to think about the best way to minimize the impact.” 

The students I engaged with showed awareness about the climate crisis, sharing examples of how they shifted their habits.  

UO student Diem Pham explained how she limited her use of disposables. “The famous one right now is the metal straw. I actually like the thermal cups, that's actually critical too. I have three Hydroflasks, so I won’t be using plastic cups,” Pham said. 

Coffee consumption has increased consistently since 2009. Most individuals don’t invest in a thermal cup like Pham does, but get a plastic or paper cups with each beverage. Along with coffee consumption comes waste.

“Hot to-go cup use has increased significantly over the past decade, along with the plastic lids that almost always top them,” wrote Annaliese Griffin in Quartzy. “And that’s not even getting into cups and lids designed for iced coffee drinks, and their ocean-clogging straws.”

Whether it be the metal straw, a reusable bag for grocery shopping or taking public transport instead of driving a car, every small action limits your impact on the environment.