Learned Helplessness


Plastic has become the most common material used since the 20th century. We use plastic for everything, and it is in everything around us, but do we really know how it is affecting our environment. All of our lives, we have been told that the Earth is becoming hotter, and plastic waste is damaging nature and animals. Every piece of plastic produced is still somewhere on the earth, the reason why it was originally made long forgotten. 

We believe that we as individuals can’t make a difference and that we can’t affect the people around us. This is called “learnt helplessness” and it is why our planet is not the same as it was 20 years ago. 

“What is so interesting about plastic is that the design of the molecules don’t break down easily, it is designed to keep going and keep going” Mr. Davis says as he further explains that this is probably great if you want something to last, but most of the plastic we use today we only want it for a fleeting moment of its designed lifetime.

If we don’t recycle the plastic you use, it just ends up in a landfill, and stays there forever. There are also multiple health concerns when it comes to plastic pollution because  the toxic chemicals in the plastic react to the water and leak into the ground, polluting the groundwater reservoirs harming wildlife and people.

Mr. Davis said “I think it’s kind of like a learnt helplessness.” Learnt helplessness is the idea that we acquire bad habits and then when there is an opportunity to change that bad habit, we never do it, because we are so used to the bad habits.

This is what has happened to us, we have grown up with plastic as our main resource of material and it has become a habit using plastic for everyday activities. Then when we are told by several sources that plastic waste is destroying our planet, we still decide to use plastic and harm our planet because we have become helpless due to what we have learned in the past.

This is something that has to change and we as individuals are the only ones that can do it.  “Live the example we want people to be.” Spandana, ’19, says “our actions will always affect someone for good or bad, even if we don’t even realise it.”

For example when you go to the grocery store and tell the cashier you don’t want a plastic bag and pack your groceries in a fabric bag, the people in line behind you will notice your action and be affected by your example. When you’re at a restaurant, tell the waiter you don’t need a plastic straw and pull out your own metal straw. Again, the waiter and the people around will see this, and might consider not using a plastic straw next time they go out. It’s that simple.

Trying to reduce plastic is hard, there is no doubt in that. There is plastic packaging that comes with almost all the foods we eat, and products we buy. There is plastic is our clothes and plastic in our daily things we need.

Nani, ‘19, asks “where do I even begin?”

This is what most people get stuck on when they are deciding to change their lifestyle so here are a few ideas for what to do in your daily life to reduce plastic waste:

  1. Stop using plastic straws, even in restaurants. If a straw is a must, purchase a reusable stainless steel or glass straw.
  2. Use a reusable fabric bag when you go shopping for anything!
  3. Purchase food, like cereal, pasta, and rice from bulk bins and fill a reusable bag or container. You save money and unnecessary packaging.
  4. Reuse containers for storing leftovers or shopping in bulk.
  5. Use a stainless steel bottle for water, you could use a reusable plastic bottle, but you might setting the wrong example for people
  6. Bring your own container for take-out or your restaurant doggy-bag since many restaurants use styrofoam.
  7. Avoid buying frozen foods because their packaging is mostly plastic. Even those that appear to be cardboard are coated in a thin layer of plastic!
  8. Don’t use plasticware at home and be sure to request restaurants do not pack them in your take-out box.
  9. Pack your lunch in reusable containers and bags.
  10. Invest in a reusable razor instead of a single use razor