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The List: 6 Eco Milestones That Happened In Class Of 2017’s Lifetime

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Check out some of the earth-friendly milestones that have happened during the lifetime of the Class of 2017.

This year, my nephew is graduating from preschool, my niece is graduating from 8th grade, and a number of friends in my social media network have kids graduating from high school and college. So you might say that graduation is on my mind. In particular, it’s hard to listen to the inspiring speeches about how far the graduates have come, without thinking about how the world’s changed in their lifetime as well.

By my math, most members of the high-school class of 2017 were born in the year 2000. That seems recent, but also far in the past! In the world of recycling and environmental issues, much has changed during the lifetime of today’s graduates.

Here are just a few of the advances we’ve seen in the world of recycling and sustainability efforts, all within the lifetime of the Class of 2017.

1. Single-Stream Recycling: Recycling used to be a harder task, requiring sorting and separating of different materials like paper, plastic, glass and metal. But in 2001, advances from recycling company Waste Management enabled many major facilities to begin offering single-stream recycling, where all recyclables could be collected in the same container, to be sorted at the recycling facility. While this method has its drawbacks in terms of contamination of some batches of materials, its invention did help increase recycling by around 30 percent.

2. E-Waste Recycling: Recognizing, with the increasing rate of technological advances, that obsolete technology would quickly pile up in our landfills, Dell Computers led the way in electronics recycling by offering free recycling for all of its computer equipment in 2006. Other manufacturers have since followed suit, and we’ve also seen the emergence of more facilities that can repurpose electronic components.

3. City-Mandated Composting. San Francisco was the first city to mandate composting in 2009, and it collects an estimated 600 tons of compostable matter daily. It’s one of more than 90 cities, including New York City, Seattle, Portland, OR; and Boulder, CO, to have a city-run composting program for its residents. Programs like these save space in landfills, help reduce greenhouse gases (that are caused by organic matter decomposing anaerobically in landfills), and help turn food waste and other organic matter into usable soil for gardens.

4. Electric Cars Become Mainstream. The Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf both started appearing at car dealerships around 2010. With favorable lease terms and tax credits, these cars became popular among early adaptors and eco-conscious drivers. With their emergence, charging stations also became more common. These cars help reduce our reliance on petroleum and other fuels, and they can reduce emissions. However, because of their electric battery, the renewability of the fuel for your electric (EV) or hybrid-electric car (HPEV) is only as good as the source of the electricity in your state. If your state gets its electricity primarily from burning coal, for instance, that may not be much better than burning gasoline.

5. First 100% Plant-Derived Plastic Bottle. In 2015, Coca-Cola introduced its first PET bottle made entirely from plant-based plastics, which not only is made from renewable materials but also is fully recyclable. While bioplastics have been around since 1926, the beverage giant’s PlantBottle, along with Reebok’s plant-based sneaker — derived from corn and cotton, show that this type of plastic can actually become a mainstream consumer-products material. However, these products being “plant-based” doesn’t mean they biodegrade like plants. Once they are made into plastic, these materials still need to be recycled properly.

6. Plastic Bags Are Illegal In Some States. In 2016, California was the first state to enact a statewide ban on plastic grocery bags. Certain cities, such as Santa Fe and Austin, have bans in place, and it’s likely that more cities and states will follow suit to cut down on the enormous waste and environmental damage caused by plastic bags.

We’ve come a long way, but we also have a long way to go to create a materials- and resource-use system that can preserve our planet’s ecological balance enough, so that the grandchildren of the class of 2017 might have the chance to live long and healthy lives too.

What changes do you think have improved the world’s environmental report card over the past two decades? Share your thoughts in the comments below. 
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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.

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  • Donna A. 5 months ago
    My daughter Lauren has had me recycling since she was in high school. 16 years later we are both doing our part in our communities!
  • Karen K. 6 months ago
    What use are electric cars if you have nowhere but home to recharge them? Until we manage to have areas throughout the country (say,at motels, maybe) they're effectively useless unless all you do is go to work and back. We have a LONG way to go on those. And the reusable bags--we may have to wait for the remainder of my generation to die off before they become more common. Too many people my age simply will not recycle. They think t's ridiculous that I do...
  • Kelli N. 6 months ago
    We have horrible allergies and this was helpful
  • Meg P. 6 months ago
    Thanks for the heads up about the plant fibers. My allergies are wheat, apples and bananas, but I know folks with serious nut allergies, and to think now we need to read labels for toothpaste, shampoo, body wash, whatever! Good grief!
  • Elizah L. 6 months ago
    The realization that petroleum-based plastic microbeads from facial/body care products have been terribly detrimental to marine ecosystems is a biggie. Compared to other big business-triggered environmental scourges that persist years and decades beyond the initial realization that their manufacturing process or ingredients wreak havoc on the natural world, it seems like toothpaste/facial wash/body wash manufacturers phased plastic beads out of their products a bit faster (in the grand ‘red tape tangled’ scheme of things). Lately, there’s been a fair amount of press regarding the invention of a plant-derived cellulose-based microbead alternative that is 100% biodegradable (http://www.popsci.com/cellulose-microbeads).Until that’s given the official greenlight, there are many sustainably minded companies that have been integrating natural microbead alternatives into their products like salt, sugar, apple fibers, coffee grounds, coconut shells, walnut shells, various types of crushed seeds, etc.