First Place


To be honest, I knew nothing about the environment until last year. I was a stereotypical teen strolling around my house leaving lights, televisions, computers and appliances on. I didn’t think twice to unplug things that weren’t being used or even to turn them off if it wasn’t necessary. The word recycle reminded me of horrific elementary school science experiments and the paper-making incident in preschool. Let’s just say recycled paper has sharper edges than regular paper. It wasn’t until I began dating a more environmentally aware student at my school that I realized what a negative impact my carelessness was having on the environment.

Being a teenager on Martha’s Vineyard is a special experience. Many people from the mainland think we live on farms, walk to school and weave our own clothing from wool we gather on organic sheep farms. This is clearly untrue. The closest I have ever come to a sheep is a Serta mattress tag. Though I was poorly educated about the environment up until very recently, the Island is an eco-friendly community. Most of the citizens are concerned about conserving our habitat and are active in the preservation of our environment.

My peer, Evan Kendall, was disgusted with my family’s wasteful habits. His first mission: get the Clarkes recycling. Evan told me all about the hole in the ozone layer, the amount of electricity my phone charger was using and the astounding amount of food I was wasting. In a matter of weeks Evan had reduced my family’s carbon footprint by 50 per cent. The things he told us to do were simple and easy to manage. We hardly had to think about conserving after adjusting to this eco-friendly lifestyle.

Today my family recycles paper and plastic as well as bottles and cans. We have learned to use household items for other purposes. We recycle Federal Express envelopes for lunches, a trick I picked up from Evan, and we used rechargable batteries to reduce our battery waste. We use HR detergent which is better for the septic system and the environment. All of our light bulbs are energy-savers and we bring our own bags to the grocery store.

When my parents realized the amount of food we were wasting by cooking dinners with five servings instead of three and eating out all the time, they were quick to change their actions. We began cutting portion sizes and if we did eat out we brought all leftovers home for lunch the next day. Our soda consumption and paper plate use was greatly reduced and eventually almost eliminated. Did you know you can wash red Solo cups in the dishwasher and reuse them?

Another thing Evan helped me realize was every person’s waste and attitude toward the environment does matter. “It may seem like no big deal throwing a can in the trash. It’s only one can, right? Well what if everyone threw away just one can? What would happen then?” I remember Evan asking me. I felt embarrassed and decided not to tell him that I threw away at least five cans daily and never turned the water off when brushing my teeth.

On a global scale, I have done research on alternative energy resources. The battle to place a wind farm in Nantucket Sound has been controversial for many years. I know the facts and figures about that project and while I understand the hesitation, I feel that our community would greatly benefit from this. I am able to support my side of the battle when asked to express my opinion to those who have questions about it.

I feel that now, more than ever, we need to invest in alternative energy projects. My parents and I have been saving for a hybrid car since 10th grade when I was told I would be deciding what stock I wanted to invest in. I did my research and invested in a share of hybrid stock. This company remains promising even in our economic crisis.

When it came time for me to drive I told my parents I did not want a car unless it was a hybrid. “I’ll ride my bike,” I said, and for a year I did. Of course I was joking about buying a new car but with their new view on the environment, thanks to Evan, my parents kept saving to purchase a hybrid for the family. Now we get an average of 33 miles a gallon year-round. I try to keep my driving to a minimum and I carpool with two people every morning.

Small changes such as reusing envelopes and carpooling can greatly decrease the impact we have on society. More conscious choices can be made to save our environment and families around the world can help by recycling and making good decisions to reduce and reuse their waste. With a few simple changes anyone can make, their carbon footprint can be greatly decreased.

It is important to be aware of the impact every action has on the environment. I am lucky enough to have met someone who taught me so much about waste and energy use that I finally listened. Okay, so I don’t read by candle light and take one bath a week in rainwater that I collect in my solar-powered sheep hut, but I am doing pretty well for the high-technology world I live in today. By unplugging appliances that aren’t being used, carpooling, recycling and being mindful about throwing away useful things like paper bags and plastic cups, we can greatly reduce our impact on the environment. We polluted the environment together. I think it’s about time we started cleaning it up!