If Not Me Then Who…? – What Can ONE Person Do…?

(sorry about the rhyming title…  😉 )

“Don’t try to save the world…”, I was told recently when telling someone about my quest to live with less plastic and rubbish in general… And it got me thinking:
Am I trying to save the world? Well, sort of. I’m trying to do my part in making this world a tiny bit better. I’m trying to smile at people and be patient when driving. I’m trying to not assume the worst about people, and I’m trying to not focus on the otherness of strangers but on our shared humanity. And often I don’t quite manage these things… So no, I’m not trying to save the world, I’m just trying to make this little bit of the planet around me a little bit better…

“But anyway, what can one person achieve? We still all have a carbon footprint, we still all produce rubbish – there’s no point in straining oneself to try harder than others…” And I definitely agree that we shouldn’t strain ourselves – that’s why I called this blog on seeking sustainability because especially with things that go against the grain, it’s important that we have enough energy to sustain ourselves, that we don’t burn ourselves out at the first hurdle. But is it true that the actions of one person don’t matter and can’t change anything?
I posed that question to some of the lovely people over on the Zero Waste Heroes facebook group, and some of the replies I got were very enlightening: Did someone like Rosa Parks not make a difference? Or someone like Martin Luther King? Or the great prophets and thinkers?
“But,” I hear you say, “they were extraordinary people – and the average person just isn’t like that.” Well that’s only kind of true: the average person might not become as famous, well-known or followed as these people, but the average person still has the power to change their life – the only real power we I have, I think. And the average person has the power to inspire others – I was so so happy to see the husband whip out a (reusable) plastic box the other day and get his salami from the deli instead of in a (not reusable) plastic wrapper; or that people are considering what other plastic-reducing things they can do in their lives… Because our lives are the only lives we can change, not anybody else’s.
And if we all do a small bit, it can add up to a very big lot!

You’re welcome to stop reading here and get on with taking responsibility and action in your own life (though you might want to check out some of the quotes below), but I also wanted (probably because I’m a scientist and I like facts and figures and numbers) to include some numbers on this, to show what impact the changes by and individual can have 🙂

The Numbers

I’ve only been collecting my non-recyclable non-food waste for a few weeks, so I don’t know how much it really comes to, but I am pretty sure it’s less than about 1kg/month. (We’re trying to sort out a composting system at the moment – maybe more on this in another post.)

I looked up the data for waste sent to landfill in the UK from 2011, the year the last census was taken:
there were 22,432 thousand tonnes of municipal waste to landfill, of which 11,716 thousand tonnes were Biodegradable Municipal Waste, leaving – as far as I understand this – 10,716 thousand tonnes of non-biodegradable waste in landfills in the UK. In 2011, there were approximately 63,182,000 living in the UK, so this means that the average person produced about 170kg of waste per year, or about 0.5kg (or about a pound) of non-biodegradable landfill waste per day. (sources: UK statistics on wasteDemography of the UK)
Going for the conservative estimate that I produce around 1kg of non-biodegradable landfill waste per month, that means that I produce less than a tenth of the waste of the average person in the UK…

(Just to clarify: I’m not trying to brag – I’m trying to show that small actions on the part of the individual can make quite a difference. And while producing near-0 waste definitely does require some planning and a certain level of adjustment, it’s a lot easier than I had envisaged. And: doing something is better than doing nothing. 🙂 )

The Quotes

“The future depends on what you do today.” Mahatma Gandhi

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” Mahatma Gandhi

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” Mother Teresa

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” Helen Keller

“Forever is composed of nows.” Emily Dickinson

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” Mahatma Gandhi

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” Robert F. Kennedy


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