I wrote my first blog a few weeks ago and one of the commenters pointed out that my suggestions for green resolutions were small and not necessarily going to have a major impact if only one person is doing it. So I asked myself, what is the impact of one person on global warming and climate change? What good does it really do if I don’t use plastic bag or plastic bottles or reduce my water use or put in the light bulbs, other than stroking my ego for being green and making me sound like Gerald Broflovsk in the South Park episode Smug Alert .
I could spend a lot of time talking about how many gallons of oil are saved by me choosing cloth bags, or how many fewer bird died because I didn’t use a plastic water bottle. But I would rather talk about the power of one person to make a difference by making a choice. It is easy to say one person doesn’t make a difference. Good thing Gandhi, the Dalai Lama or MLK didn’t think that way. One person, acting alone, in a vacuum, probably has little impact but that doesn’t happen. Even nutters like the Unabomber had to interact with people once in a while even if it was rarely. We all are in contact with lots of other people all the time.
I choose to not use plastic bags. I am probably a bit more extreme in my use of cloth bags than most. I put my vegetables, grains, bread, and fruit in cloth bags, as opposed to plastic. I also get credit for that when I shop at a store – saving about 40 cents per trip to the store for NOT bagging these things in plastic in addition to my main shopping bags credits. Add to that the 10 cents per bag for my larger bag, I get back 70 cents per week – multiple that times 52 weeks its $36 per year. Of course I buy a lot of these items at the farmers market. Also my family is not producing waste because we don’t bring it in the house to start with. I also do not use plastic bags for my garbage either. I use paper. I rinse out and dry anything that I am throwing out and compost our food. If I have food to throw out, I’ll put it in the bag right as I am taking it out. Since making these changes my family of four produces less than one paper bag of trash a week and it is still just food wrapping. It’s not even worth it to pay for trash pick-up.
I think that the more important thing to discuss is the impact my choices have had on others. The store closest to my house never has paper bags out so most people have no idea that is even an option there. When I go there, especially when it is on my way home and I don’t have my bags with me, I ask for paper. I have heard people after me in line be surprised they had paper and ask for paper as well. So right there are fewer plastic bags in use. If more people use paper there, the store would start leaving them out because it was more convenient and even more people would know paper is an option.
Additionally, I talk about not using plastic bags. Most people don’t even think about the impact of plastic and some really don’t care. But when you tell them that over a year they can save money by bringing their own bags, they are more willing to listen. When you tell them that plastic waste cleanup is costing them additional money, they are even more willing to listen. About 4 billion plastic bags are thrown away annually. Public agencies in California spend in excess of $303 million annually in litter abatement – which means each Californian pay $8 a year to clean up plastic bags. Over the past 25 years, plastic bags have been one of the top items collected on International Coastal Cleanup Day. If plastic bags were banned each person would save approximately $18 to $30 per person annually – that is between $72 and $120 for my family. Even if that isn’t an environmental argument, it still accomplishes the job of reducing plastic bags and getting people’s attention.
Also, my kids are learning to think about environmental issues: to not use plastic bags, drink from water fountains rather than bottles, recycle, shop at the farmers market and buy local. I hear them telling their teachers and their friends about these things. So has my partner, my friends, and even my colleagues. I am teaching environmental sociology and team teaching sociology of food this semester. My co-teacher is already decided to make some of these changes just from prepping the class. Her three kids are also learning about this as well. Because I have shown these individuals that is not hard to do bring your own bottle, shop with canvas bags, reduce your waste, and recycle more. The two ladies who baby sit for my kids have made changes as well from coming here. They both have decided to use cloth towels rather than paper ones, canvas bags, and bringing their own bottles. Right there is 7 people who are changing their ways because I made a choice. If by example, each of them only changes 2 others, maybe their boy/girl friend or their mom or their best friend, then we make a huge difference by doing little things. Soon you have enough people who are behaving in environmental ways that companies pay attention; city councils make new rules, etc.
So, yeah – one person making these changes does make a difference on the environment even if they are not being preachy about it.