Last year I didn’t throw anything away.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say I am the only person writing for Care2 who has ever started a piece with that line. For those of you just tuning in, Jan. 1, 2008, I decided that I was going to not throw anything away or recycle anything for a full year and see what happened. Now, safely on the other side of 365 days, I can report to you that quite a bit happened, and shockingly, most of it was good.
I started the whole process without much thought as to what would actually happen and boy am I glad I did. The first thing I noticed was that I am not your average consumer. I guess I just don’t buy a lot of things but I had never really realized this before I started storing everything in the basement. So I quickly changed the scope of my project from “look at how terrible we are” to “look at how good we can be.”
You see dear reader, I don’t live in a cave. I have a wife, two kids, a job, a car, and two pet rats (don’t hold that against me, they are very cute). For all intents and purposes, I am an average guy–whatever that means–but basically, if we were to hang out for an hour, you wouldn’t really notice much different about me.
And yet, during the course of the year 2008, I was able to cut my trash down to a mere 30.5 pounds. Now of course, that doesn’t include the amount of recycling, which was still small but a bit more than 30.5 pounds.
What made the whole thing possible was cognizance. By being forced to confront my trash and recycling I was able to make choices. Fish wrapping was replaced by Tupperware, coffee bean bags went away by buying in bulk, plastic produce bags were replaced with cloth that, due to the 5 cents I got back every time I used them, have since paid for themselves and are now saving me money. It was amazing to me what a simple amount of knowledge could do.
The other thing that shocked me was how easy it was to train myself to not throw anything away. Trust me, until you try and stop something like that, you have no idea how ingrained it is and how little you think about it when you do it. Now I mention this not because I’m trying to persuade everyone to stop throwing things away (although cutting back a bit couldn’t hurt, right?), but because I hear so often how hard it is to remember coffee mugs, water bottles, and reusable bags, just to name a few. My point is, compared to not throwing things away, those are easy. So if you think remembering a bag is tough, think again. If you put your mind to it, you can train yourself to do anything.
Since the year is up, I have set up a new site that I hope will continue the work that I started. It’s a bit more all encompassing–waste, renewable energy, electric vehicles, and beyond–and will be centering around the solutions videos, a new video every week (and eventually more often) that will highlight a simple solution to help save the planet at the same time will save you money, and in some cases even time. I’ll try and post them when I can here but you can also receive them by signing up for the solutions newsletter.
I think that if I were to have to sum up what I have learned in one thought though, it would be this: Think. Don’t keep on doing things the way that you have done them blindly without thought just because it’s easy. Ask yourself, “Does this make sense?” and “What is the impact of my decisions?” Often times you will find that there is a simpler, easier solution that will lessen your footprint on the planet and once you have adopted it into your routine, you’ll realize you, and your world, are better for it.
Dave Chameides is a filmmaker and environmental educator. His website and newsletter are designed to inspire thought and dialogue on environmental solutions and revolve around the idea that no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. “Give people the facts, and they’ll choose to do the right thing.”