Environmental Impact: Commitments

As those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know, I make a yearly commitment to reduce my environmental impact or advocate for social justice in some consumer way. This past year, our family replaced the use of plastic straws with stainless steel or glass ones. When I tell people what we do or when some people see our straws, a common response is, “I could never do that because…”

  1. I’m too disorganized.
  2. I never remember those type of things.
  3. Who cares about straw use, it’s so small after all.
  4. I have too many other things going on so I just can’t commit to do another habit.
  5. Fill in your own excuse.

When I hear these responses, I want to empathize because I’ve had those same thoughts, especially in January and February when my habit isn’t established. But sometimes I have another response, especially when I visit other countries who have amazing environmental consciousness like Italy, which is, “How typically American.” In the entire planet, 20% of the people use 80% of the world’s resources. In case it isn’t clear, US citizens are in the 20%. Yet, if I can put aside judgment and offer encouragement my response is usually, “developing habits is guaranteed to change your person in unexpected ways so that you will benefit personally far more than whatever your impacting.” So selfishly, I continue to commit year after year to care for the environment or “my neighbor” across the ocean or next door. After all, what impact does eliminating one straw a day really have? An estimated 500 million straws are used in this country EVERY SINGLE DAY. So not much, but if we all start thinking about our straw use and start making a difference maybe we can cut our country’s use in half and then another half and another half until our straw use is a fraction of the 500 million.

This past year, some of you have asked about how we got started and developed our habit. So I’d like to offer some tips.

  1. Purchase straws – Amazon offers many options. If you’re like me and try not to use Amazon, www.byolongbeach.com has great prices. You can also go to her website and check out Southern California events to get them in person, which is even better.
  2. Store your straws in your car or purse.
  3. Buy double the straws per people in your family of the sizes you use often. In my family of four, it is rare we are all out for a smoothie together. Instead, three of us are often out so we have six boba/ smoothie straws. We also have four regular size straws. This is for when we all go out to a restaurant. Notice it isn’t double, this is because I almost never use a straw in a restaurant nor does Dennis so only two people use straws.
  4. Buy a special cleaner for the straws. (Many stainless steel straws come with them at purchase.)
  5. Have a bag for the used straws, which you wash out along with the straws, and this goes in your purse as soon as everyone is done using their straw. Otherwise, the straws get left in the car. Gross.
  6. Have a clean bag that you use to place the clean straws in. This also goes either in your purse or near your car keys so you get them back in your car (unless you store them in your purse).
  7. If you forget to bring them in the store, but they are in your car, make yourself go get them. You’ll never remember if there isn’t an incentive such as inconvenience to help you develop this new habit.
  8. Think about your motivations for developing this habit and it will likely increase your motivation for following through and making it a habit.

Environmental Motivation: From the Be Straw Free campaign, here are some facts. Americans use 500 million drinking straws every day. To understand just how many straws 500 million really is, this would fill over 125 school buses with straws every day. That’s 46,400 school buses every year! Americans use these disposable utensils at an average rate of 1.6 straws per person per day.

What we gained as a family. It’s hard to identify everything we learned as a family through this discipline. One parenting victory with my 10 year old was when we started discussing our new habit, he gloated when we were out and he was using a plastic straw. He loved (and loves) moving against the rest of us. Our strategy was to teach him how to respect other’s opinions and not gloat about his different decisions rather than convince him about the need to reduce plastic use. (Of course, if we were out some where and had our straws with us, he needed to use a stainless steel straw but it was when we didn’t have them that he would be delighted to use a plastic one.)

Luckily, his school weekly news summaries addressed the issues of using straws and plastics. He began discussing with us what he was learning about plastics. He and I began watching a few Ted talks that had great information about plastic reuse (one discussed India’s reuse of plastic by converting it into roads and another one showed the ocean’s “plastic island.”). Slowly, he lost his delight in plastic straws and began asking if we had the reusable straws. He also became excited to share with friends that he was reducing his straw use.

For my 16 year old daughter, she also told her friends what we were doing – informing them on the “cool” straws we use as well as developing a lovely mindfulness and intentionality around this habit. In the beginning she would be bummed to go back to the car, but as the months went by, she went less often and it wasn’t a huge deal to do so.

For me, I find it spiritually rewarding to get outside of myself and make decisions where I personally aren’t necessarily gaining from my choice. Instead, it’s likely the future generations will see the benefit of decreasing our 500 million straw a day habit. However, I do find a reward in developing habits – internally, It’s sticking with something until it works (remembering to bring our straws) and being successful is motivating and feels good. I believe it also reflects a pace of life that means I’m not so overwhelmed that I an’t fit something new on my plate. For me, it brings me great joy to be participating in a greater good – reducing plastic and being mindful of our planet’s resources.

What’s up next? We’re going to create a habit of bringing our own containers for dining out, and when possible bring our own containers to the salad bar items at our local grocery stores.

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