Can one person really make any real difference?
Have you ever asked yourself "What can I do about it?". Be it climate change, racial injustice or the divisions in our society. These are HUGE issues and can seem insurmountable for one person to even comprehend, let alone try to come up with an action plan to combat. What can we as individuals do to actually make a dent on these complex systemic issues?.
It can feel overwhelming and depressing. Faced with adverts, stores and promotions promising a happier, healthier life if we buy just one more thing wrapped in plastic, I tend to go to a dark place and even Phil, my husband who 'gets' why this staff matters, will still sometimes tell me that I'm sucking the joy from things because I want to find a more sustainable way of doing them. I just can't help but wonder how on earth can we beat the climate disaster countdown clock if we can’t even work out how to drink from a cup without a plastic straw?
Then 2020 happened, with all its unpredictability, heartbreak, and plain weirdness. One thing it did show us as a family was that one person CAN make a difference and as I reflect on what the year, and our project, taught me personally, I’m full of hope that if work together we can and will make a huge difference.
Starting with a goal of just one bag of litter a day led to a total of 717 bags being collected by our family of four. But as a community of 2020+ collectors, the ripple effect of the Just1Bag project led to the removal of over 24,000 bags of litter (approx. 12 tonnes) from forests, streets, beaches, and oceans.
There are so many amazing groups around the world, many of whom have been doing this much longer than we have... from the Pentwyn and Llanedeyrn litter picking group in Wales, to Clean Miami Beach in Florida, to Harpers Army in Australia, all working to keep the planet cleaner and safer. If you haven’t checked them out already, please do.
What is important is that everyone can be part of the solution. You don’t have to join a litter picking crew or set up your own organization. You just need to be the kinds of people that don’t walk by, like Helena Boers, Steph at My Beach Project or Kyra and hundreds of others who joined in (Our @just1bag2020 Instagram highlights reel shows all these amazing people making a difference in the world). They stop, they pick up the trash and put it in a bag until they find a bin or recycling place for it. They leave places cleaner than they find them.
Litter picking is for many a first step towards a more sustainable life. Manny Rionda from @fillabag and I have talked at length about how it’s an entrance action to sustainability, and once people see the trash that is washing up on the shores they look at their own consumption. Once you’ve litter picked 100 Dunkin' cups you’re a lot less likely to crave an XL iced coffee from there!
So our goal for 2021 is to take the 2,020 amazing people who picked up a bag, many for the first time, and turn it into 5,000. For the original 2,020 (or 2,142 as it ended up being!) it’s about taking the next step and continuing to pick up litter, maybe even setting their own goal for number of bags to collect in 2021 or how many people they want to inspire to collect a bag too, keeping the ripple effect going.
For me, 2021 is about not being afraid. I used to be embarrassed about picking up litter or asking for my kids’ drinks in a glass rather than plastic cup. I’m 90% over this, but I still get embarrassed. I still have to remind myself to stand tall and give a big smile to the person walking by who gives me a quizzical look as they see me stuck in a bramble with a Bud Lite can in my grabber’s claw, or not to apologize and mumble when they question why I don't want plastic cups.. They may be judging me but I'm learning that is more about them than me :).
I see my role as a parent to lead by example and so in 2021 I’ll do things I don’t like doing (like getting my skates on and getting on the ice with my kids on New Years Day) to push myself out of my comfort zone. I'll try to live by my values and by the values I want our children to have. If I don't, how can I expect my kids to? I’ll make a fool of myself I’m sure, but in the grand scheme of things does it really matter?
We can combat climate change if we all commit to doing one thing to reduce our impact. Then do one more thing, and another. The question is really, will we?
So, try something new this month. Start that home compost pile (and join in with @honestlymodern’s #showoffyourscraps campaign), put a spare reusable cup, bottle, or bag in your car so you have one ready, watch Game Changers or Kiss the Ground on Netflix. The corporations and governments need to do their bit too (I’m not letting them off the hook) but we can’t control them. We can control if we reuse our own water bottles instead of buying a plastic one. We can control cooking one more meat free meal a week and trying new recipes. We can take that first step on a more sustainable journey.
What will you do first? Send me your eco tips! I’d love to hear them and see what I can add to my eco goals for the year.
Here’s to a brighter, cleaner, more sustainable 2021.