WASHINGTON – American University student and zero waste club co-president, Claudia Bailey, 20, said the way to improve environmental sustainability is not through policy change, but by individuals making small decisions every day to lessen their environmental impact.
“My biggest concern about the environment would be apathy,” Bailey said. “When people say ‘someone else will fix it’ and ‘it’ll be solved later’, it’s a really dangerous mindset to have from an individual standpoint all the way up to governmental standpoint.”
As co-president of the zero waste club, Bailey oversees plans such as the club’s composting initiative, project move-in and move-out sales, and other initiatives aiming to reduce student waste on campus.
Bailey said her goal for the zero waste club is to have a student-run thrift store up and running before she graduates, an initiative Bailey wrote a business plan for herself and received start-up funding from American’s Kogod School of Business.
“Having a physical location on campus where students can buy used items at discounted prices, which helps out a student budget and reduces the amount of waste we send into landfills, I think would be a great lasting legacy that I could leave on campus for other people.”
Bailey said that while the government should work towards large-scale solutions to improving the nation’s sustainability efforts, it is also our job as citizens to work toward environmental awareness as individuals.
“If you don’t do anything about a problem, the problem won’t automatically fix itself, which is why people on a college level should be working on small scale solutions and our government should be working on large scale solutions.”
Growing up next to chicken farms on the eastern shore of Maryland, Bailey said she was privy to the impact pollution has on the environment from a young age.
“When I was growing up I got to go out on boats on the Chesapeake, where I learned about the oyster pollution, and how the crabs were doing in the bay,” Bailey said. “I was always learning about how the nitrogen run-off from chicken farms would get into the water and pollute it.”
Bailey accredits her environmental passion to her eleventh grade environmental studies teacher, who she said inspired her to pursue sustainability in college.
“She taught me that ‘talking trash’ is cool, and that if you want to go pick through trash every Tuesday, that’s ok,” Bailey said.
In high school, Bailey served as president of her school’s ‘eco’ club, where once a week during lunch time, she and the rest of the club would sort through bags of trash to separate compostable and recyclable items from waste.
Bailey said to limit her own waste now, she uses a compost bin that zero waste provides as part of their free opt-in program, and said because of this she only has to take her trash out once every two weeks.
“I’m also just conscious of what I buy,” Bailey said. “I prefer not to buy things that are in single-use packaging because that’s just another way of generating waste.”
Bailey said she would tell people looking to reduce their impact on the environment to take small, consistent steps.
“I would tell them that making small changes really does make a difference,” Bailey said. “I think there’s a narrative in this country that it’s harder to be more sustainable, and that small actions won’t actually make a difference, but they do.”
Bailey said the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, a United Nations agreement that regulates each country’s greenhouse gas emissions, shows little promise that the current administration will act on environmental concerns.
“The U.S. government currently is taking steps backward in environmental activism,” Bailey said. “Donald Trump’s leadership on climate is not the kind of person we should have inspiring the next generation.”
Bailey said that if people viewed the environment as less of a political issue and more of a human issue, maybe the world could reach a consensus about how to approach improving it.
“I think we need younger people in government, who are actually concerned about how their future will look when they have to live it, and I think we also need more people to understand that the environment is not as political an issue as it seems to be,” Bailey said. “At the end of the day we all need to drink water and to breathe air. If you’re missing that, you’re missing the point of what the environment does for you.”