Reflections on the Power of One

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In honor of the Earth for All Ages mission, I have challenged myself to NEVER bring a plastic bag into the house. I now carry compact, re-usable bags everywhere I go.

Stuffed in my purse, coat pocket, or on the passenger seat of the car, they are always nearby.  As a result, I have been able to politely decline all kinds shopping bags. Each time, I say to myself…that’s one fewer plastic bag in the world.  Cashiers and nearby shoppers get the point.  Onlookers often nod in approval. “Oh, saving the Planet?” Yes. Yes I am.

However, to be truly impactful, I have to recruit others; so I started with my husband.

I explained to him the importance of this small act and we looked at images of where plastic bags end up: on land and in the sea. Every single bag was thrown out into the environment by a human somewhere. He is an avid scuba diver, so ocean health is a concern of his. We agreed to commit to re-usable bags as a family, and to make our home plastic bag free. Then we stocked his car with re-usable bags as well.

It took a few tries for him to remember to bring them into stores before it became more automatic. To his surprise, being more mindful of plastic bag use made him more aware of how wasteful and unconscious we are with plastic in general, mindlessly using plastic spoons and forks, plastic wrapping, straws, plastic coffee stir sticks, etc., so he stopped using those as well. It has been interesting to see how paying attention to one thing can lead to awareness of other things.

We are not the only ones. After receiving the first issues of Earth for All Ages, a good friend in Germany wrote back to me: “I read that you’re doing an earth blog which I think is a wonderful idea! Short, understandable information and easy to apply ideas how each one of us can do their share to help save our planet. Your first subject is on plastic bags. Schweinfurt (Germany) agreed to ban plastic bags in our city council last year. In many stores sales personnel don’t automatically stuff purchases in plastic bags but ask if the customer has a bag with them or would like to purchase a plastic bag for 20 cents. That’s the way to do it. Many people unfortunately don’t base their decisions on common sense, but only on what it does to their wallet.  I’ve already noticed that many people have gotten used to carrying a bag with them. Little steps that can make a big impact if it spreads out to a larger scale.”

And this effort is, in fact, being enacted on a larger scale.  In July 2016, France imposed a total ban on the distribution of lightweight plastic bags at supermarket checkouts, a measure already in place in several countries. France has also become the first country in the world to ban disposable plastic cups and plates. A new French law will require all disposable tableware to be made from 50% biologically-sourced materials that can be composted at home by January of 2020. By way of statistics, one hundred and fifty single-use cups are thrown away every SECOND in that country alone — 4.73 billion per year, according to the French Association of Health and Environment.

In California, the San Diego City Council voted in July 2016 to ban single-use plastic bags at grocery stores, pharmacies and corner markets. The goal of the new ordinance is to encourage shoppers to use reusable bags, decreasing the number of plastic checkout bags used every year. San Diego goes through roughly 700 million plastic bags a year, with only three percent being recycled.

So, it’s happening! One person, one city, one country at a time.

Karen Johnson, L.Ac.,RN