Develop sustainable habits to last a lifetime

The garbage can is a place most people visit several times a day. If it talked, it could be a person’s best friend, because it’s probably visited more than human friends.

Have you ever thought about ways to reduce trips to the garbage?

Most people have talked about the importance of making our world more sustainable. In fact, Sen. Lisa Murkowski mentioned to UAA students Jan. 18 that she wants the state to develop a renewable energy plan and is interested in looking at many options, including biofuels and geothermal, ocean, wind, and solar energy. There is also much talk in the United States and other countries about whether to increase limits on greenhouse-gas emissions for future vehicles. And the UAA chancellor’s cabinet approved a new UAA energy policy in December that supports sustainability.

It’s a popular topic, but how many have applied it to their lives?

Most people have thought about it a little, at least getting as far as “I should start recycling” or at least, “What can I do to save money on my gas and electricity bill?” But how many do anything about it?

UAA students, particularly those in the science and engineering programs, may have the opportunity to work toward sustainability as a career. This is especially true if their studies or future careers focus on alternative energy, but all students can choose to find ways to make their personal lives more sustainable.

It takes simple things: turning off the lights when leaving a room; unplugging phone chargers, toasters and other appliances from the wall when not in use; carpooling when the opportunity is present; plugging in cars when temperatures drop below 20 degrees; and taking the extra steps at school or work to toss paper in the recycling bin instead of the nearby trash can.

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Recycling, an important part of sustainability, seems to have a stigma attached to it in Alaska. It is more expensive to recycle in this state, but unless you’re paying to have the recycling picked up at your house, this fact does not affect you directly.

The costs are few: only the low cost of a trash can or bin to dump recyclable items into (or find an old box for free) and the little extra gas used to drop off a container at the recycling center on the way to somewhere else.

Some people argue that one person working to be more sustainable won’t make a difference. This is probably true, but several people deciding to use that excuse will have a negative impact, while many people working toward sustainability can have a positive effect.

The near future will bring other sustainable options.

The Consumer Electronics Show this month featured gadgets that may soon be an accessible choice for people to consider when purchasing electronics, such as backpacks and briefcases with solar panels to charge laptops. The conference also showed that systems for storing solar power have improved to the point that some can store the energy for up to a year – important for Alaska’s sunny summers but dark winters.

Caring about and developing sustainable practices isn’t necessarily about saving the environment; it’s about developing positive habits that people will carry with them the rest of their lives. If these habits aren’t started now, they may never be developed.