Monday, January 14, 2008

Opting In

Lately, I've been feeling a little ambivalent about the impact I'm making. I mean, it's important to me to take steps to modify my life, but the truth is that the average American throws 4.5 pounds of trash out per day. There are over 300 million Americans. My reduced trash (and it has reduced, especially after DeSloFooMo) does nothing to skew that average. I can hope, and I do believe, that each individual action makes a difference, but I am still left wondering, is that difference enough? Isn't there more I could be doing?

And so this weekend, I spent a lot of time thinking about one of the Big Bosses at my work. Several months ago, Big Boss made a huge impact on our environment with one simple email memo. She changed our company policy so that now, company documents are printed double-sided, and when we order paper it needs to be paper with recycled content.

Our company goes through a LOT of paper, but instantaneously, she halved our paper usage by requiring things to be printed double-sided. Good for the environment, and, frankly, good for the company, considering we're probably saving money on paper. That's way more paper than I've saved by not using toilet paper!!

I've been talking and thinking a lot about opting out. Opting out of consumerism. Opting out of pre-packaged, one-serving meals. But I haven't done enough thinking about opting IN. I'm not a Big Boss, and I can't dictate how the people around me print their documents. But I live in a community, and I can influence my community in my own way.

For example, my apartment building doesn't participate in the city's curbside recycling program. This doesn't really affect me. I'll take the extra trip to the recycling center to recycle my bottles and paper. But there are a lot of people in the building who won't take the extra trip. Who will throw their recyclables down the trash chute because it's just easier. But what if I talked to our building manager and asked him if we could start participating in curbside recycling? What if I did the research on the internet to figure out how we could implement it and what the cost (if any) would be? Now, my manager might tell me no, we can't do it, it's too expensive, or it's too difficult. But if he said yes? Then I wouldn't just be reducing my trash, I'd be helping to reduce the trash of all of the whole building.

Or what about the organization I volunteer with? We provide coffee and juice to volunteers, and we also provide them with styrofoam and plastic cups. But what if I could find cups like these compostable paper cups? What if I could get us a deal on the cups so they wouldn't break our bank? At the very least, we could switch to paper cups which I think are still better than styrofoam or plastic.

So from now on, I want to start thinking a little less about what I can do about MY impact, and a little more about what I can do about my community's impact. I'm going to start opting in.


Anonymous said...

huzzah! pragmatism!

color me impressed. I've been meaning to ask our building manager about getting recycling for the complex...

ScienceMama said...

that's awesome, arduous.

but just so you know, you've also had an impact on me. i'm a pretty good recycler when it comes to the obvious stuff, like soda cans and junk mail. but you've gotten me thinking about the recyclable parts of things i would normally throw away. like the paper backing on the syringes at work. they used to go in the trash with the non-recyclable plastic. now i separate them and throw the paper in the recycling. or choosing glass instead of plastic where i can. and finally getting off my butt and bringing a mug in to work for my coffee instead of getting a paper cup at the coffee bar.

you're having a positive impact. keep up the good work!

Shorty said...

Good for you! While I don't have any sort of regular place of employment to influence, I like to tell people that I work with that I recycle, how I recycle and how they can recycle in Chicago if they're interested. It's a much smaller impact, but I like to think that all of us working in our own smalls ways can add up to a big impact!

p.s. Thanks for your comments on my 2008 resolutions. I do organize my finances with Quicken already, I just need to pay more attention to my monthly spending. I'm thinking about starting a new savings account just for travel, thanks for the idea!

Chile said...

That's great, arduous! When concerned individuals reach out to influence their surrounding community is when we may begin to see big changes. I hope each person that reads your post will follow your example.