Friday, August 24, 2018

It started with saving turtles

The following is a true story about turtles. Maybe you don't care about turtles, and that is okay. Turtles aren't the point. This is a story about starting something small, and watching it turn into something bigger.


This sense of drowning in too much has been weighing on me lately, so I have been looking for ways to simplify my life. I find I no longer have the patience to keep up with so much stuff, so I have been reading a lot about simplifying, and that lead to reading about the affects of so much stuff on the planet.

While I want to do more for the planet, I have to admit, I have put off doing much because I like convenience. I like easy, and being more "green" seems like so much work. Work I haven't been really ready to tackle yet. Plus, how much will whatever I do really matter anyway in the grand scheme of things?

So change was slow because I hadn't committed to anything yet. Until the turtles.

I read this article about floating piles of garbage. My son has lamented on it at dinner before, saying how they are huge islands of plastic garbage floating around in the oceans, but honestly, I didn't get it. I mean, he was10 at that time. A rock in a lake big enough for him to sit on is an "island".

These islands are no joke. If you combine all the plastic islands in the Pacific Ocean alone guess how big it is? 5,800,000 square miles. That is twice the size of Texas and nearly 9 feet deep. 8,000,000 million tons of plastic ends up in our oceans each year. The average American discards 185 pounds of plastic annually. 300,000,000 tons of plastic is produced annually. These are huge numbers.

What about recycling you say? Only 5% of post consumer plastic is recycled in the United States each year.

The islands are formed from micro-plastic particles that have degraded overtime and those particles mix with the plastic trash like water bottles, and even things like shoes, fishing nets, and computer monitors. Those things find their way to massive circular currents and a trash island is born. Birds, fish, marine mammals, and turtles, ingest the plastic particles and trash, or get stuck in the refuse.

Following this article I stumbled upon, we took our annual trip to the beach, where my kids discovered that turtles are dying because of plastic straws up their nose and mistaking plastic bags for jelly fish.

That beach trip was the last time the kids have used a plastic straw.  It's been roughly 3 months and no straws eating out, or at Starbucks or anywhere. None. They haven't cracked once, and my daughter has sworn off all things glitter (for a 9 year old girl, this is a major commitment. Not that we took the drastic measure of throwing away current glitter outfits, but no new glitter garments or crafts).

Yet, I was slow to join the cause, and, I may have said out loud something to the effect of what can one person do? To which the reply was something like it has to start with one person. Out of the mouths of babes, right?

So, what can I do? I can stop buying glitter or things with glitter (huge environmental problem). I can stop using straws, and I can stop using plastic bags.

Ahh, the plastic bags. Saving turtles lines up with one of my other peeves. Plastic bags.

My conscious won't allow me to throw them in the trash, so I keep them then take them back to the store to put in that bag recycle bin. Only I forget, then I have this huge mountain of bags I schlep to the grocery store, and spend way more time than I want stuffing them in that bin. I hate it. My hate is strong for this task, so the turtles and I share the same goal here. Plus, saying I am saving turtles sounds way cooler (and more sane) than erupting in a scorching rant about being too lazy to recycle plastic bags.

I take re-usuable bags to the grocery store already, but I hadn't to other stores. Like when I only buy batteries I still get a plastic bag, even though it will fit in my purse. I don't even think about it, I just blindly accept the bag.

Once I started noticing, I decided to try out not using a bag. What would I say? Would they look at me like a weirdo? Wouldn't it be simpler to just take the damn bag? How many times have I wanted to say 'no bag', but forgot? What was going to keep me on track with this this time?

I came up with two solutions. One, I keep a fold up bag in my purse foldable re-usable, washable bags). This is a set of 4 for $13.99 and they are super cute.
And we use these reusable straws which are stainless steel, but here are super cute and colorful silicon ones available as well.

The second solution to not wanting to look like a weirdo and staying committed...that was harder. I decided to tell my kids what I wanted to do and why (to save the cute little turtles). You better believe they have no problem reminding me at the check out to not take a bag.

They also have no fear of looking like a weirdo if it will save a turtle, and no one looks at them weirdly, instead they say, "Awww, isn't that cute."

When they are not with me, they are like these little angels on my shoulder reminding me to remember not to take the bag. Save the turtles.  (Okay, plus they look for plastic bags and act like two tiny devils if they see one in the house, equally effective).

Desire alone isn't enough. My pain with plastic bags alone is not enough to make a change. You need find a big enough reason to make any change, and re-enforce it with accountability (aka a big dose of guilt from my kids and a desire not to disappoint them. Oh, and to save the turtles, of course.)

Just as an aside, I haven't gotten one weird reaction at all by skipping the bag. I don't have to say I am saving turtles or some other lengthy explanation for my weirdness. I just say, "I don't need a bag. Thanks."

So, will I change the world? Will I get rid of floating garbage islands with this one change? Of course not, but sometimes all it takes is that one weirdo to make something not so weird, and if enough weirdos join me, that positive change spreads. It becomes normalized, and we slowly produce change in the world.  Worst case scenario, it's only my family, and we still are doing something, and that is better than nothing.

I'm confident in swaying other weirdos to join me though. My husband has jumped in on the no straw bandwagon, and now his co-workers do it too. The other day, I said, "No thanks, I don't need a bag," for my one item purchased. As I was putting my wallet away and leaving, I heard the person behind me say, "I don't need a bag either." Weirdness spreading. My heart felt lighter, I felt more energetic, and I felt connected with a total stranger in this one little thing.

The point is, this isn't just about turtles. Although I hope from reading this I have convinced you to reduce your plastic consumption even if just a little, but the bigger picture here is that there are things in our life that we want to take on, but we are afraid. Maybe we are afraid that it will be too difficult. Maybe we are afraid that we will fail. Maybe we are afraid that we will try it and not like it. Maybe it all seems like such a huge undertaking, and we are just too lazy to tackle it, and we are afraid to admit that we are too lazy.

First you find a strong enough reason to take the first step, your "why". For me, it was supporting my kids to be the good, kind and caring people I say I want them to be (not really the turtles, even though they are super cute).

Second, you take the tiniest first step you can imagine. If you take the first step, it helps you to build the momentum to take the next, and the next, whether it be for the good of the environment or for your own good in your own little world. Tiny steps make big changes, and we just might save those turtles yet.