Aiken Technical College wants the community to understand how litter and failing to live sustainably can not only affect the environment, but also endanger daily human life.  

"We have accomplished the goal of a social norm that litter is unacceptable," said Esther Wagner, awareness coordinator of Palmetto Pride. "So we don't have any litter do we? No, we do. We have a social disconnect between the social norm and what's actually happening."

Wagner was one of several speakers on a guest panel at Aiken Tech's annual Sustainability Expo on Wednesday.

The college invited local and state businesses, like DHEC and Keep Aiken County Beautiful, to attend the expo and explain to students and staff how they are attempting to limit pollution, litter and promote environmentally sustainable ways of living.

According to Wagner, those efforts are struggling on a worldwide scale.

"Most littering happens within 15 feet of a receptacle of some sort," Wagner said. "We've littered the highest mountain, we've littered the lowest trench in the ocean. We've even littered in space."

Wagner said a big challenge in promoting environmentally-friendly living is getting people to understand the true impact of failing to keep the environment clean. Litter and pollution don't just affect wildlife in some distant ocean or jungle – it's starting to trickle into every aspect of human life and is negatively impacting our health.

Microplastics have been found in the U.S. food supply and water systems, especially seafood.

"There was a recent study … 94% of water is tainted with plastics in the United States," Wagner said. "We're drinking plastics. Bottled water has plastics. And they even tested Trump Tower – it's not just low economic areas. It's everywhere … it's in the food we eat.

"We're also being killed on our roadways," she continued. "How many of you have been forced to avoid litter while driving?"

Every person in the panel's audience said they'd been forced to avoid litter while driving in roadways, or even had accidents because debris struck their vehicles. 

Dora Robson, a procurement specialist at Aiken Technical College, said the expo serves as an awareness effort to bridge that social disconnect between pollution and health.

"It's just to spread the knowledge," Robson said. "If you don't know any better, then you don't know why you should be recycling or what difference it makes. Students and staff can get an idea of what a difference those small steps can really make."

Kristina Rackley is a general assignment reporter with the Aiken Standard.