What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.
– Jane Goodall
In an earlier section, we talked about how about 100 companies are responsible for most of the emissions being released right now. We also noted that we as consumers don’t really buy from them directly. So how do we fight back at the individual level? How can we curb emissions and cut other kinds of pollution?
By drying up the market for the products that these companies backstop. Voting with your wallet.
Again, I’m not talking about temporary boycotts. Nor am I talking about standing around in the grocery store debating the morality of choosing Brand A over Brand B while the kids are bugging you for chocolate bars or plushies.
What I’m suggesting is a longer term solution and a systematic approach, whereby you take a look at one purchasing habit at a time, fix it, and then move on to the next habit.
Let’s use an example. Consider this: Every toothbrush you’ve ever used in your life is almost certainly still around.
Numbers vary, depending on the conditions and type of plastic, but most figures suggest that it takes hundreds of years for plastic to decompose. (And mostly it seems to go into smaller and smaller bits of plastic.)
Kind of a scary thought, yes? It gets worse if you start doing some math.
Let’s say the average person changes out his toothbrush once a year. Now consider a small city with 1,000,000 people in it. That means one city generates a million used toothbrushes every… single… year.
Thus, we’re creating mountains of used toothbrushes that will still be around in ~450 years.
And of course, since you’re reading this, I probably don’t need to tell you that most plastics come from fossil fuels, and that fossil fuels are responsible for CO2 emissions, air pollution, and that oil spills are incredibly devastating.
So, is there a perfect, zero-impact replacement for plastic toothbrushes?
No. Not yet anyway. But there are products that are arguably better.
And indeed, that’s the case with nearly everything we’ll look at in the coming sections.
Nothing proposed will be perfect, and there’s probably no such thing as zero-impact. Given the size of the human population, the law of big numbers will mean that everything we do will have outsized effects on our planet.
But we no longer have the luxury of waiting for heaven-sent solutions. We have to start moving everything we do to at least less bad right now while en route to those solutions that are sustainable or regenerative.
We’ll start with some of the biggest impact items in your household. One will be obvious, and you’ve probably been thinking about it already. The other might surprise you.