An Easy Way to Make a Difference
(that will leave others feeling inspired, too!)
by Greg Peterson
Stop…think for a moment about that item you just tossed in the trash. Often it is a cup, lid, straw, or plastic bag that you used only once, for a short period of time, then tossed “away” to some unknown place called a landfill. Fast food restaurants buy them by the gross for customers who then dispose of them. Then, the restaurant wraps them all up in a bigger plastic bag and hauls them to the dumpster. Watching this process countless times through the years made me start thinking about items we use only once.
The reevaluation of my consumption habits began in earnest when I found out that Americans use an average of 1267 plastic bags per person per year—that’s 3.8 billion bags per year in the U.S. alone! That’s when I made an agreement with myself that I would no longer use any plastic grocery bags for anything…period. So now if I arrive at the store and don’t have any of my favorite cloth bags in the trunk, I can only buy what I can carry out.
This decision has made for some interesting shopping adventures. Just the other day, I had the checker pack all my groceries back into the cart and I loaded them individually onto the front seat of my car. It really wasn’t a big deal, and while it probably took a couple of extra minutes and looked a little weird, a commitment is a commitment!
Once I started, I had to look deeper and more carefully at all of the single-use items in my life and I couldn’t believe the sheer volume that I went through on a weekly basis. Initially, I wasn’t as concerned because I’m good about recycling, but then I learned that up to 85% of these items don’t get recycled at all and still end up in the landfill.
That was it—my journey to lighter living was elevated to passionate. Now I am much more aware of the many ways that I can personally reduce my use. What started with plastic bags has spread to my entire lifestyle.
To replace the pesky plastic bottle, I purchased a stainless steel container that I fill from my home water purification system, eliminating hundreds of plastic bottles that I had used annually. And I’ve found that many restaurants will fill my bottle, which is helping to save numerous cups, straws, and lids. I also enjoy the added bonus of knowing there is no risk of chemicals leaching into my drinks from stainless steel.
The important thing to remember is that you do not have to suffer to make impactful changes. If you always use a straw or lid for your cup, and that is something you need, keep doing it. On the other hand, if the wait staff is bringing you a new straw every time you get a refill, you might ask them to stop. You simply have to be aware of what works for you.
Making these kinds of changes has required little effort on my part but has made a huge impact on reducing the number of items I use. In turn, my effort is helping to decrease the potential negative impact on the environment and my health.
These changes may seem small on an individual basis, but collectively they make an enormous difference. The most important change we can all make is to be aware of the impacts that our choices generate. Then, we can evaluate different choices and select the ones that make sense in our worlds.