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Most people do not. However a group of University of Otago students will learn about the life cycle of materials in the Treasure or Trash paper during summer school starting next week.
Associate Prof Sarah Wakes said sustainability was a lot more complicated than most people realised.
The idea of simply pushing for change did not work without understanding the nuanced process behind wastage, such as the social implications.
There were reasons why companies used unsustainable materials such as single-use plastics and the paper gave the students a glimpse of the entire manufacturing process.
As part of the course, students would set themselves a sustainability goal, such as using less power and water, eating less meat, or reducing wastage.
Students who had taken the class in previous years told her it had changed their perspective on consumption entirely.
Although not everyone would have the chance to take the paper, she encouraged everyone to be curious about what they used and where it came from.
"Think carefully about what you consume."
Everybody was capable of making a small change in their lifestyle which would help sustainability.
It did not have to be significant, as small changes added up and could make the world a better place.
Summer school will run for six weeks before most students return for the first semester.