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Having graduated in the top 10% of Reserve Officer Training Corp (ROTC) cadets nationwide in 2012, Pat Robinson was ready to take on a career in the Air Force full speed ahead.

Despite her stellar performance in the classroom and training grounds, Robinson feared other habits she'd picked up at Ohio University had sent her down the wrong tracks.

First stationed near Panama City, Florida, Robinson became reliant on alcohol while serving as an air battle manager student. After barnstorming through Atlanta's nightclubs on New Year's Eve, Robinson failed a drug test and lied to her commanding officer about the results.

Eleven months later, she was dismissed. Feeling ashamed and directionless, Robinson briefly returned home to Cleveland before venturing west to look for work in San Francisco.

After a brief stint working at a paint store, Robinson found herself without a source of income and was relegated to living in her car. Robinson's garbage can soon became littered with parking tickets and her car was towed. Golden Gate Park's cool grass soon replaced her bed.

"My substance abuse spiraled very quickly," Robinson said. "You name it, I probably used it. Very quickly I contracted HIV and Hepatitis C. I was arrested again and again and was finally charged and sentenced to substance abuse treatment."

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The average American produces nearly 5 pounds of waste material—cardboard, plastic, aluminum cans, and junk mail—each day. The United States creates significantly more garbage than the rest of the world (roughly 3 times more!), and we're running out of places to put it.

Most people are aware that recycling is important, but knowing exactly what and how to recycle properly can be confusing. Let's face it: we are, as a nation, stretched pretty thin in this particular moment; now we have one more thing to worry about? In a word, yes.

Don't worry though, because whether you're new to recycling or have been doing it for years, there is always something more to learn and endless ways you can help. To make saving the planet a little bit simpler, we compiled a list of small things you can do that will make a huge impact.

Acknowledgment. Most of us go about our day without thinking about the garbage we're producing, so simply tuning in to the choices we make is a big step forward. For example, online shopping increased dramatically in 2020, translating into a lot more cardboard boxes, plastic shopping bags, and Styrofoam takeout containers finding their way into households. That is a lot of trash!

Awareness. Buy from brands with a proven track record of environmental responsibility. Select foods in recyclable containers. Take the time to educate yourself on the best eco-friendly grocery stores in your area, and then... actually shop there.

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