Happy Results from a Plastic Pollution Talk

After returning to small town U.S.A. after living in South Korea one thing that really struck me was the lack of recycling. At my job I noticed that there was nowhere to recycle, except for cans and bottles that were NYS redeemable. The exact opposite of Korea where they have really streamlined recycling right down to nationwide composting.

Back home in the US, myself and a handful of my fellow, concerned coworkers in NYS would wash out our recyclables and carry them home to recycle them there. Then, with the help of a kind-hearted, hard-working maintenance man at work, as well as my husband, I started taking the recycling from our admin building to the local transfer station, which is where people in rural communities take their waste if it isn’t collected by the town or a private waste management company. That same kind maintenance man informed me a few months later that we had switched waste management providers and that they provided zero sort recycling. Exciting!

That was over a year ago and most people were doing well recycling. I’d find the odd recyclable in the garbage, dig it out, give it a rinse, and toss it where it belonged at least once a week still, but the majority of people were getting it right, but it still wasn’t perfect. Plastic silverware and styrofoam cups were being used on a daily basis although we have a full kitchen (save a dishwasher, *hint*hint*) available for use that’s steps away from all offices and contains a surplus of silverware and mugs. What to do?

I decided to find an ally, who replied to my email saying others had similar concerns. We all teamed up and had a video conference about ideas. Zero waste my was primary contribution and it was decided that in order to ask our coworkers to make changes in their habits that it should be explained them why it is so important, so I volunteered myself to give my 5 Gyres plastic talk at the upcoming all staff meetings.

The first two meetings were less than a week ago and to be honest I was quite nervous. I have given my talk at places where people chose to attend and who were generally already aware of climate change and environmentalism, places like the local natural history institute and an outdoor outfitters; but to give my talk to a room full of people who are forced to be there and to some who might possibly be climate deniers was making me anxious, mostly because a poll came out saying that climate change is the more polarizing than abortion for Republicans and Democrats. 

My fear was unwarranted. During the sharing of statistics and heartbreaking images of the deadly effects of plastic pollution on marine life and land animals I witnessed shocked and devastated looks on my coworkers faces, it was sinking it. And it may have been the first time that some of them were hearing such information.

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Afterwards, a handful complimented me on the talk and some even shared how they already refuse plastic bags, bottled water, and one coworker asked advice on supplying a family restaurant with paper straws. Hearing that people were already making changes in their daily lives filled my heart with warm gushiness and melted away the nervousness I had originally been feeling.

In the days since giving the talk I have witnessed coworkers swap the styrofoam coffee cups for real mugs, noticed that the recycling is filling up faster meaning that it’s being used more, and have been told by coworkers with a smile on their face that they were rinsing out their yogurt tub to recycle. Things haven’t shifted 180, people still come into work with their iced coffees in massive plastic cups with big red straws, but not everyone has to go zero waste, small conscious decisions are a start.

Hearing the three coworkers’ stories about how they already hate plastic was enough fuel for me to feel really excited and happy, hopeful even, which is a difficult emotion to come by with ever more headlines in the news telling us how omnipresent this major problem is. And hey, the kitchen staff graciously agreed to switch to real silverware this year for our picnic instead of those bundles of plastic silverware, napkins, salt and pepper in single use plastic wraps. That alone cut back on a lot of waste.

What have your success been in this struggle against single use plastics? Please share, it’s these little wins that keep us going.

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