Last month I worked on a project that I called March of Trash. The idea was to see if I could make an impact on my neighborhood and clean it up by picking up trash on my daily doggie walks. Each day after picking up the trash, I laid it out in a square and posted a photo to Facebook. To my pleasant surprise, I managed to completely clean up the three blocks around my house and over the span of one month, people felt less compelled to litter the now clean streets. I called it a success!
Then something happened!
People started sending me links to videos and articles from organizations that are actively trying to make a difference about trash and one of them touched the deepest core of my being. It was this video by Jeff Bridges for the Plastic Pollution Coalition. I was aware that plastic is a problem, that oceans are polluted and that birds die because they eat plastic, but when I did my first Google search using the key words ‘Plastic Pollution Ocean’ I broke down crying with a helpless sadness about the state in which our oceans are today. I knew it was bad, I saw a beach completely covered in plastic bags during a recent trip to Mexico. But with my deep love for animals these pictures brought me to my knees. My eyes filled with tears to the point where I could barely see the images anymore. I felt so utterly helpless that part of me wished I had never been born because I am not strong enough to witness this tragedy.
It turns out that 100 million sea mammals are killed each year from consuming plastic in the oceans.
As a user experience designer I professionally study human behavior and then design a customized experience against my findings. So to help ease my pain, I decided to analyze myself. What behaviors are not in alignment with my vision? What behaviors can I change? I am certainly not a big part of this tragedy! I am a well educated consumer, I am aware of sustainable practices, I don’t buy water in plastic bottles, I recycle and make good choices about the products I buy and the food I eat.
I went on Facebook, posted Jeff Bridges’ video and wrote the following headline:
“I love the Earth and all its living beings, so I’m committed to reducing my disposable plastic consumption to zero, what about you?”
My post got several likes and one person replied: “I’m in!” That was two days ago and today I am completely humbled. All I can say is:
“OMG, Holy Shit, Fuck, Fuck, Fuck… I am one of the worst offenders!!!”
Over the last two days I desperately tried to get my plastic consumption to zero and I am realizing just how unrealistic this goal is! EVERYTHING is wrapped in plastic! Every single day on my March of Trash, I used one plastic bag to collect my neighborhood trash, two plastic gloves to lay out the trash and clean up afterwards, several plastic doggie bags to clean up after my dog. That makes 31 plastic trash bags, 62 disposable plastic gloves and 100 plastic doggie bags — in just one month! And that’s not even the tip of the iceberg. All of my iced teas, lids for lattes, to-go salads, Zip Lock bags, Saran Wrap, Cosmetics and most of the food I buy is somehow touched by plastic that I use and discard, daily.
Today I decided to get serious about my plastic consumption and instead of getting an iced tea at the local coffee shop, I picked up a ginger beer that came in a glass bottle. Without thinking, I went to the counter and put a straw in it. A PLASTIC STRAW! Then I went to pick up some sushi for dinner. Somehow I thought they would put it in a paper container, but when I picked up my to-go order I couldn’t believe what I just did. My sushi was packaged in three single use plastic containers and to top it, they put all of it in a single use plastic bag.
Once I was at home I opened my mail box and found an Amazon order of Printer cartridges. The packaging material consisted of inflated plastic bags and the cartridges were wrapped in plastic. Then I opened the fridge and found cherry tomatoes in a single use plastic container and several sauces, yogurt, cottage cheese and condiments, all in single use plastic containers.
If I truly want to reduce my disposable plastic consumption to zero, where do I buy my food? My office supplies? How do I keep things fresh? I never really thought about the daily logistics of plastic consumption before. I know that the first step is to become aware of my behaviors and then I have to learn what options I have to change them. I hope that once I tap into my social networks, I’ll be able to find some mentors that can point me to more sustainable options. Right now I feel helplessly lost.
Am I going to be “that person” who goes to the coffee shop with her own reusable cup? I hope so! Will I do the same for soup, salad or sushi? Maybe…? Will I stop ordering products online? I don’t think so! Will I remove the veggies from the plastic in the grocery store? That’s awkward! Will I find a good middle ground? Is that good enough?
There is also a resource section on the Plastic Pollution Coalition website with tips on how to decrease plastic consumption.
While I didn’t plan on doing another month long experiment, I think that the only way I can hold myself accountable is by publicly sharing my experience. So today I am starting another month in which I share trash related images, this time it’s about the plastic I consume and ways in which I hope to change my behavior. I trust that just like last month, people will send me links to resources that will help me get closer to my goal. Probably not to zero, but hopefully a much smaller percentage than what I am consuming today. And maybe, just maybe this will make some of you think twice when you’re facing plastic.
I decided to continue using the ‘March of Trash’ social media channels, so check out the Facebook and Instagram pages for daily updates as I navigate my way through the plastic maze I live in.