One day last fall I collected that day's trash -- from home, commuting, and work -- in one place, and took a good look at it. This moment of trash truth, and the behavior changes that followed, were part of my No Impact Week Experiment.
No Impact Week is a free event in which participants experiment with changing everyday behaviors in order to reduce carbon impact. The event is periodically sponsored online by "No Impact Man" Colin Beavan. Participants download a manual with schedule, information, links, and suggestions, then work with one area per day (consumption, trash, energy, etc.) to become aware of what they are already doing and make improvements. They can share their thoughts and experiences with other participants in the online forums and respond to follow-up questionnaires.
As one who sees that massive individual behavior change is necessary for the environment, but whose environmental actions sometimes lag behind her thinking, I watch for whatever might motivate or help me and others to actually make changes. So when I came across No Impact Week, I had to try it.
As my week began, I thought I was already living a fairly low-impact life: I wouldn't need to change much. Wrong. I found I was doing well in some areas while remaining a beginner in others. In the food area, I changed little, except to forego buying bananas to keep my supply more local. Trash was another story.
Actually spreading that day's trash on the kitchen floor and dividing it into piles opened my eyes. I saw mostly fruit and vegetable trimmings. Sending unused organic produce to the landfill is crazy, I thought. I asked my landlord if I could compost on his property. He agreed and provided a compost bin. I've composted ever since.
With compost removed, the remainder of my trash was mostly plastic. This led me to grow bean sprouts, make crackers, and experiment with homemade HBA items to reduce my plastic packaging trash.
In my experience:
- the focus on one area a day was manageable and productive.
- since ideas were given for every level, it was possible each day to find something new to do, even in areas where I'd already made many changes.
- doing the awareness exercises, e.g., looking at my trash, fostered a change in consciousness sufficient to fuel sustained behavior change in several areas. (I've backslid in other areas.) My growing awareness of how much plastic I send out into the world, along with making the Plastic-Free Pledge, has led me to continue work on cutting my plastic use.
- Colin Beavan's year-long experiment, the manual, and other participants' comments inspired me. The specifics vary, -- one woman in Los Angeles stopped driving to work, and instead mastered the intricacies of using the LA bus system, others fought mighty battles to avoid junk foods -- but many people succeeded at making real changes that week.
If the prospect of trying a No Impact Week appeals to you, check it out here.