Students encourage sustainability with fun, celebratory angle

Zoe Tzanis

Standing in line at Kinsolving Dining, Michael Kobrosky and Isabel Carey watched with dismay as students piled one single-use container on another and then grabbed plastic water bottles, bags and utensils.

“We were both aware of this excessive consumption of plastic,” Plan II freshman Carey said. “It's not something that people need. It's more a habit which they aren't aware of.”

Carey and Kobrosky decided to turn their frustration into inspiration. To change the attitude surrounding sustainability on campus, they created @realonesreuse, an Instagram account where they post weekly photos highlighting UT students who choose to live sustainably. 

Since their first post Jan. 25, they’ve gained over 260 followers. Students can send a picture of themself with reusable products to @realonesreuse for a feature.

While their captions are celebratory and lighthearted, Carey said they have an important message.

“We want to celebrate people being sustainable and making those choices,” Carey said. “This is such a small, easy step we all can and should make.”

Eating three meals at the dining hall every day, Carey estimates the average on-campus student goes through at least 63 sets of disposable cutlery per week. 

“That is crazy. That is totally preventable,” Carey said. 

Last year, when students entered an on-campus dining hall, they were faced with a myriad of reusable products to choose from. Now, following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, students can only use single-use containers.

Large institutions, such as UT, have relied on single-use products to decrease the spread of COVID-19. In America, households are producing up to 50% more waste than they did before.

Radio-television-film freshman Kobrosky said UT students still have to consider sustainability at every turn, especially now that it is more difficult.

Kobrosky said he became concerned about sustainability issues after learning about climate change in school and from documentaries. 

“It started when I was in fifth grade,” Kobrosky said. “I used to act like a lunatic turning every light off in my house to save energy.”

Advertising freshman Camila Ramirez was featured on the account last month and said she is an enthusiastic supporter of the Real Ones Reuse message. In the post, she proudly holds up a metal spoon.  

“Our current lifestyle as Americans, where we have a huge consumer culture, is not sustainable,” Ramirez said. “Any step towards promoting reusing and reducing is a step in the right direction.”

Despite the obstacles, Carey said the pandemic presents an opportunity for change.

“We … are looking to take care of things which are beyond our individual needs and problems,” Carey said. “We have to use this to create a difference and care more about our community and the planet.”

Kobrosky said he knows Real Ones Reuse can’t solve climate change alone but said UT students have the ability to make choices leading to a more sustainable lifestyle.

“You don't have to change the world,” Kobrosky said, “You don't have to become vegan. You don't have to drive a Prius. Take small steps like buying metal utensils.”