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STEM Story: Erin Dracup

Can you talk a little bit more about your zero waste journey and why you decided to start it? (Follow up: How difficult has your journey been?)

I took a marine biology elective just because I needed the credit. One day we watched this film called “A Plastic Ocean.” It is on Netflix by the way. It is really good and a very eye-opening film. This film covered sea birds that passed away due to plastic pollution in their stomachs, sea turtles and everything. That is how my zero-waste journey began.”

“I have always loved animals. I know everyone says that, but I have always felt that way. I kind of felt ridiculous that I did not know that this was an issue at all. I wanted to make a change in my own life because I did not have a platform to educate others on at this point. I started cutting out single-use plastics, and doing my research. I began with the classic reusable water bottles. Then, I started to look at all the areas in my life that I created waste. Due to lack of accessibility in our society, it is kind of hard in some areas, but I was privileged enough to have the financial resources to be able to gather some products. Now it has been roughly 4 to 5 years, so I have gathered quite a bit of knowledge on how to do this on a budget, so that is kind of what I am looking to share with everyone. Also, I have gained an importance and passion for all things sustainability, not just plastic anymore, so it is important to me as well.”

“It has been sort of difficult because I found out once I became aware of plastic pollution, it was all I saw. Everywhere I went I noticed plastic pollution. I noticed especially that it was pretty easy when I was at home because I could kind of control everything, but then I went out to college and the first week you get all these freebies and random things of all things waste. It was super hard to be that new girl and meeting all these people and having to bring my own cup to parties because I did not want to use a Red Solo cup. Luckily, I met people who were understanding, but also very supportive. I think that is the biggest obstacle because I have always been friends with people who are not necessarily sustainable or not as passionate and some people just do not understand it. One time, I went to go get a milkshake with friends and I brought my own cup and they did not accept it, so I just did not get a milkshake. I got a lot of ‘what?!’ and confusion from my guy friends. Honestly, at first it was kind of difficult, but it has helped me come out of my shell to be like ‘no, this is who I am’. Nowadays, I always get responses like ‘Interesting’ or ‘I have never heard of that’ or ‘That is cool’ which is great because it is a way of educating others which I really enjoy doing.

Besides your zero-waste journey, what are some ways you have become more environmentally conscious?

“I study marine sciences at Boston University, so I have learned a lot about ocean acidification and how greenhouse gases are impacting our earth and climate change and everything. I am still a work in progress in this area. I am learning a lot, but I try to walk everywhere if I can, if it is accessible. One, it makes me feel better and two, it is obviously a bit better for the Earth. I am bringing my bike to school in the fall. It is nice for me because I live in a city where I do not even need a car. That is an area that I focus on. Another area I focus on is accessibility and improving accessibility. I want to reach out to different stores in my area and discuss how to make sustainability more accessible for people because I think that is a huge issue.”

What do you hope to gain from the Instagram you created?

“Basically, I just hope to spread awareness to as many people as possible. It is already growing, very surprised. I am almost at 300 followers in 3 days. I have the business account set up, so you can see how many people saved posts. I posted one about sustainable shops owned by women of color and that got over 150 saves. That was crazy to me because that is my goal here. I just want to share as much as I can about small businesses, tips on how to avoid fast fashion, and plastics. I am hoping to gain a pretty good following before my blog goes up, so I can have an even larger outreach.”

Have you thought about ways to tie your passion of environmental justice to your field of study (in research, future career, etc.)?

“My dream and goal is to be a marine conservationist. I really would like to be more on the research side and actually be in the water, but honestly I would accept anything in that field because I love everything to do with it. Actually this summer, I was supposed to have an internship in Indonesia. It got canceled due to COVID-19, but it would be a marine ecology internship where I would be researching both how plastic affects coral reefs because there have been studies that connect it and also how ocean acidification is affecting the Pacific Island.”

“Being at Boston University and studying marine sciences is really nice because there are a lot of connections and people above me that have had research experience and it is super cool. I definitely want to continue to study plastics but in a more research based field.”

What are some of your future projects you hope to create?

“When I was in high school, I led a couple lake clean ups around Cayuga Lake to clean up some plastics. Since I am living near the Charles River in Boston, I want to lead a cleanup, once corona goes away that is a big thing right now. I think in the meantime until we can obviously meet in a group, I want to encourage everyone to pick up litter when they are going, bring gloves on your walks, and everything like that. Honestly, maybe in the future, I would consider opening up a little online shop because I love to make my own products. It is very fun for me. I don’t make my own skincare products just because I don't really trust myself, but I make coffee scrubs using the excess coffee grounds from my cold brew. I make sugar scrubs that are super easy to make. Once I move out of my dorm and am able to do that, I would love to start selling those maybe on Etsy and probably connect it to my blog.”

As girls interested in the environment, what are some ways we can become more aware about environmental justice?

“I really think it starts with hearing the voices of the unheard at the moment, people who are actually experiencing it and not being heard which I think is a crazy thing that is actually shown in aspects of all things justice like social justice. I feel like a lot of the faces of these movements are people that are just not experiencing it. The part of the reason I focus so much on plastics is because one that is where my passion began, but also I see it firsthand. I went to Kenya a few years ago. It was southwestern Kenya, a very small village to teach young girls how to play soccer because that is also something I did all my life. I played soccer all my life. There is so much plastic pollution there. We send our waste to third world countries which is so crazy because that way we do not see our waste, but it affects low-income communities which is insane to me. First-world countries are producing all the waste and then sending it off and forgetting about it, but it does not go away. I think it is very important to give people who actually experience it a platform because I can learn all I want, read all the books I want, but I really believe that you need that emotional value. I really think you need it because when I watched ‘’A Plastic Ocean’ I felt it inside. I really felt for the animals and I wanted to make a change. I think if you are coming from an area where climate change is affecting you already and you are seeing the effects of all these environmental damages, you will be able to feel it and you can proclaim it.”

As you may be aware, environmental racism and injustice exists and it is widespread, what are some ways you have fought against this?

“I am working on a few things at the moment that will be on my Instagram, but I have been listening to a lot of podcasts about environmental racism because it is very apparent and very important. We can’t really fight for sustainability without having an intersectional environmental aspect, not even the aspect, the entire focus should be about it. Climate change disportionately affects people of color and low income communities. A problem to me is the environmentalist movement where the majority of faces you see are white even though there have been so many wonderful movements led by indigieous communities, people of color, black communities and everything. Their voices often go unheard. If I get a platform, I definitely want to give a place for those voices to be heard because honestly, I can speak on it and spread awareness as much as I want, but I have never experienced the effects of climate change. I live in the suburbs in upstate New York at the moment. I am white. I am a white woman. I think I can spread awareness as much as I want, but I also want to give those who actually experienced it a platform. I haven’t done too much currently because I just started, but I am learning and I want to put that information I get to help make a big change in the world because it is super necessary.”

What advice/comments do you have for girls who are worried about the cost of eliminating their waste(buying metal bottles, more expensive products, etc.)?

“I think that is a very valid thing. I have heard that from a lot of people. My favorite tip is low waste does not have to fit an aesthetic. You can just use what you already have. For example, I have these makeup brushes that I have had for literally 4 years maybe. They are plastic, yeah, but there is no reason for me to get rid of them and buy bamboo makeup brushes that are $60. Same goes for water bottles for girls that may have played sports or done anything where they needed a water bottle just use that. You do not need to have an insulated water bottle. Just use what you already have and once it is time that you need to buy a new one look for sustainable versions, but you can also look for second hand. Even if that is plastic, it is second hand and you are continuing its life cycle. That is what is most important is making your things last for as long as possible. That for me is a huge money saver because I am now a college student, so I do not have the funds I use to, so that is super helpful for me for sure.”

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