Three Gifts Challenge

13 January 2008
Our new environment minister, Peter Garrett, is floating a proposal to ban plastic shopping bags in Australia by the end of the year. I think this is a great idea. Not only do these bags pollute every corner of the earth, they also kill a large number of marine creatures.

Australians use 4 billion plastic bags each year; in China 3 billion bags are used per day; in the United States 380 billion disposable plastic bags are used each year and only 1 percent are recycled.

It got me thinking about other commonly used items that we might be able to give up that would be a great help to the planet. In the midst of this there was an interesting segment on morning TV on the five most damaging personal waste items. They are, and this is a cut and paste from this link:
  • Polystyrene foam: Take away cups of coffee are made from expanded polystyrene foam, a product that does not break down over time. Polystyrene cups simply create landfill that releases toxic chemicals into the air. Alternative: Bring your own mug or take away cup to your favourite cafe.
  • Cooking oil: Cooking oil is often disposed of in ways that hurt the environment. Simply pouring oil down the sink not only damages the plumbing, but it also means the oil ends up in waterways. In the same way that oceans can't deal with oil spills from large tankers, small waterways can't deal with oil that is put down the sink. Alternative: Store used oil in a sealable container or jar and ask your council how to dispose of it correctly.
  • AA batteries: The batteries that power your remotes control contain around one percent mercury and when this leaks it can cause environmental damage. Batteries use less energy than they cost the environment to produce. Alternative: Rechargeable batteries.
  • Disposable nappies: Nappies are convenient but they can create landfill that takes years and years to break down. It's estimated that the average baby creates around 700 kilograms of solid waste in nappies alone. Alternative: Cloth nappies.
  • Cigarette butts: Smoking is more than a health hazard, the 32 billion cigarette butts thrown away in Australia each year damage the environment. It can take years for each butt to break down as each cigarette contains poisonous chemical compounds. Alternative: Quit smoking or make sure any cigarette butt is disposed of properly.

I decided to challenge myself to give up or modify three environmentally damaging things I do. I think it’s a really good way to remind myself that I can’t afford to sit back and think I am doing enough.

It is not enough.

It's the small things that I could easily change, with just a bit of thought and action, that will make a difference. It occurred to me that it would be a good challenge for everyone here. If we all got involved, and if you wrote about the challenge on your blog or talked with your friends about it, maybe there would be a ripple effect that would really make a difference in our own communities.

So my challenge to you is to choose three items or actions that you currently have in your life that you’ll modify or give up completely. It doesn't have to be on the list here, it can be anything that you do that you know is harmful and are prepared to change. We can do something important here. If we all do this, tell our friends and neighbours what we are doing and why, and ask that they join, we could make an impact in our local areas.

I think it’s important to continue working towards reducing consumption of just about everything we use, but this will be extra. It will be our three gifts to the world. I want everyone to join me in doing something positive for our grandchildren and their grandchildren. It looks like they will pay the price for what we are doing now.

This is what I will do:
I will never accept a plastic bag again. I have a number of cloth bags for grocery shopping and I always take my basket when I go out, but I do sometimes still come home with a plastic shopping bag around the milk or fruit.

I have to arrange my basket so I can put cold things in it. I generally have a diary, papers and notebooks in my basket that I don’t want to put cold and wet items on. I have a little cloth bag in a pouch that I’m going to keep in my basket so that if I do pick up milk or fruit and vegies when I’m out, I’ll put my paper stuff in the cloth sack and fill up my basket with produce. I’ll have to train myself to check I have the bag pouch every time I pick up my basket. I tend to come home and empty my bag and not put it back where it should be. That will stop from this minute.

I will never buy water in a plastic bottle again. I resolved to give this up about six months ago and did well for a while but then I bought water when I was out somewhere without my water bottle from home. I have a perfectly serviceable Thermos flask that is unbreakable, I’ll use that for hot and cold drinks. If I am caught out without the Thermos, I’ll have to stay thirsty until I get home. That will soon teach me to always take the Thermos. ; - )

I don’t smoke but I work with people who do. When I go to work tomorrow I will put out containers for cigarette butts and make sure I put them in the rubbish bin each week.

So that’s it for me; three gifts for my local world. Will you do this with me and make a positive change? I’ve made two badges you can save to use in your blog when you write about your gifts. You can then put the badge in the side bar of your blog to show that you’re part of the challenge. Let see how far we can spread this, let’s see how many people we can motivate to give three gifts. If you have no blog, print the badge out and stick it on the fridge, and tell your family and friends about the challenge. Seeing the badge will remind us of our commitment and that we can be part of a global solution instead of continuing on regardless.

Small steps, my friends, small steps.