Local Gator Making a Difference: Leanne Sheffer

Local Gator Making a Difference: Leanne Sheffer

"I wanted to shed light on the fact that you can still go out, have a good time, but be environmentally conscious; all it takes is bringing your own cup along with you for the night."

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In the midst of tailgates and ladies' night, it is easy to forget about the harmful environmental consequences that our actions often inadvertently cause. From the noise and light pollution that disturbs wildlife in our community, to litter that is often strewn about the streets of Gainesville. One local Gator has gone above and beyond the norm to ensure that the community has a better understanding of not only their harmful actions but what they can do to make a significant difference in their everyday lives.

In this edition of Local Gators Making a Difference, we follow the story of Leanne Sheffer. Sheffer is a freshman at the University of Florida who constantly works to reduce her ecological footprint, as well as spread information on environmental-safe practices to her peers.


What is the project/ message you intend to share?

I was working on a project to reduce single use plastics in Gainesville by trying to incentivize both college students and bar owners to switch to more sustainable options. I created the BYOC movement that puts an emphasis on students bringing a reusable cup along with them to bars so that they do not have to repeatedly waste plastic. I met with various bar owners and discussed various options for reducing their waste and plastic use such as switching to biodegradable plastic, giving discounts to those who BYOC, plastic free happy hours, or eliminating plastic straws. My ultimate message was attempting to sensitize college students to the vast amounts of plastic they consume every week and show them the easy ways to help reduce.

What was your inspiration for this idea?

BYOC in Action

Photo provided by Leanne Sheffer

For my Facets of Sustainability class, we had the choice to create a simulated project for our final or to actually work on a project with the goal of bringing about real change within our community- I chose the latter. As a student that goes out often, I personally saw people going through multiple plastic cups every night, throwing away each one not giving it a second thought where this "away" is- sadly, it's the environment. I wanted to shed light on the fact that you can still go out, have a good time, but be environmentally conscious; all it takes is bringing your own cup along with you for the night.

What have you already done to make this happen?

The first step we wanted to accomplish for our project was to acquire support and spread the message of our organization, to do this we created an online petition that people could sign to pledge their support in bringing their own cup when going out to bars or parties. We ended up receiving over 300 signatures on our petition. The next step we took with this project was reaching out to various organizations and sources such as, the president of the organization #UNLITTER, who is also a bartender at White Buffalo, We Are Neutral, a carbon calculating company in Gainesville, and of course many bars across Gainesville including Grog, Simons, The Swamp, White Buffalo, and JJ's.

In teams of two, we assigned each team a bar to work on reducing their use of single-use plastics, the team would contact the bar and schedule a meeting with them to discuss the introduction of sustainable practices. Through the outreach, with the petition, we were able to find people within the community of Gainesville to work alongside us and introduce us to more people in the bar and club community. As we talked to more bars and people, our proposal shifted to become more adaptive as we learned what worked best with bar owners.

Some of Leanne's most notable accomplishments include:

  • Simons agreed to only give out plastic straws per request rather than with every drink!
  • Eco-Night at Visionary 11/30 (pre-established event but turning it into a BYOC)
  • Visionary agreed to try out biodegradable plastic (Tijuana Flats)
  • Plastic Free Happy Hour at White Buffalo
  • Plastic Free Happy Hour at The Range
  • Celinos Art Show Reception hosted by the Bull agreed to be tagged as an eco-night

So how can YOU contribute?


This is the first article in an ongoing series about Gainesville locals making a community-wide impact in creative and unique ways. If you or someone you know is making a difference within the community, please reach out to me [at giadejesus3@gmail.com] to possibly be featured in the next "Local Gator Making a Difference" article!

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Are Plastic Straws Really Killing Sea Turtles?

It's no secret that plastic isn't great for the environment, but how sensationalized is this topic actually becoming?

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When I first saw a video of a sea turtle getting a plastic drinking straw removed from its nostril, I was obviously upset like any other viewer would be. I care a lot about the environment and about animal life and it was upsetting to see that a product of human consumption and ignorant waste was destroying precious parts of our world. I wholeheartedly jumped on the bandwagon of "plastic straws kill sea turtles!!!" but only knew about the issue from this video and what I heard from people or saw on social media. The whole topic of plastic waste into the ocean remained in the back of my mind until the recent pledge of Starbucks to stop using plastic straws in stores by 2020 reminded me of the issue.

As the topic of plastics and their pollution of the environment (largely the oceans) has become so recently powerful I decided to do some research of my own. If I was going to tell people to stop using plastic straws because they were killing sea turtles, I wanted to be sure that I wasn't just repeating everything I heard from social media.

Turns out, plastic straws are hurting sea turtles and other marine life, but a lot of what I thought about plastic waste was exaggerated (at least from what I had heard from others). Sea birds are the most impacted creature by plastic straws, not sea turtles. About 1 million or more seabirds die every year from ingesting plastic straws and choking on them. In research from recent scientific studies, 80-90% of seabirds have some kind of plastic inside of their stomachs. Also, the ecological footprint that plastic straws alone leave on the planet is actually pretty small compared to food waste or fossil fuels.

However, all the buzz about sea turtles may come from the fact that globally 86% of sea turtle species are known to be affected by plastic debris. Overwhelming amounts of plastic garbage in the ocean have caused a steady decline of the leatherback sea turtle over the past several years, so much that they have been placed on the endangered species list. Plastics can hinder eating and consumption, breathing abilities, and even reproductive capabilities of all kinds of sea turtles.

So while plastic straws may not be killing sea turtles in hordes, they are killing sea birds, and plastic overall have caused huge and deadly effects to many sealife species. We have known that plastic is bad for the environment and the oceans for quite a while, given the fact that the Great Garbage Patch was discovered almost 20 years ago, so it's more than time to start caring about the problem. If we can eliminate single-use plastic straws that aren't biodegradable, we can stop using other single-use plastics and make a better effort to reduce our harmful impacts on the oceans. Individually, we can move towards small changes, which can move our society to a more sustainable and healthy place. If you are more interested in this topic, I would suggest reading about how you can make a change or looking at this article and checking out this scientific journal.

Cover Image Credit:


Vinicius Amano

@viniciusamano

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4 Tips On How To Be A Plastic-Free College Student

The United Nations estimate that the world's oceans contain more than 8 million tons of plastic, so it's up to all of us to make a difference.

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We all may love the ease of throwing away our plastic utensils and water bottles, but marine life does not. With sea turtles and other animals choking on the plastic we discard every day, it's time to make these simple changes to better our planet.

1. Start using metal silverware

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In 2015, nearly 2 billion plastic utensils were purchased and approximately half were sent to landfills. But where do these 1 billion plastic forks, spoons, and knives go from there? To put it simply, straight to the oceans, rivers, and other bodies of water that are home to billions of different aquatic species.

2. Stop buying plastic water bottles

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Not only do 38 billion plastic water bottles end up in U.S. landfills each year, but the process of bottling water releases 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually. If these statistics alone aren't enough to make you want to never bring a plastic water bottle to your soccer game again, then the financial aspect might. With a 24 pack of Poland Springs water bottles costing slightly less than $5, you can pay that price just one time by investing in a reusable bottle.

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4. Avoid plastic toothbrushes

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With the average person throwing away their toothbrush every 3 to 4 months, it is not surprising that 50 million pounds of plastic toothbrushes are added to landfills each year. Instead, invest in environmentally friendly toothbrushes such as the Bamboo Toothbrush, with BPA-free nylon bristles.

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