A Week in the Life of a Conscientious Environmentalist

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I’d always perceived myself as being someone rather environmentally friendly. I bring along my own water bottle wherever I go and have no need for disposable styrofoam cups. I am also an ardent supporter of home-cooked food and rarely order take-away. I try to recycle as much as possible too, punctiliously ensuring that bottles, aluminium cans, cardboard and others belong to the recycling bin.

However, I recently read an article, detailing how two exceptional individuals went the extra mile to champion their belief in environmental sustainability. One, in particular, resonated especially deeply with me: nonplussed about other people’s opinions, she set about her way to reduce her consumption of disposables in everyday life, even setting up an instagram page to document her efforts.

The article ostensibly made me doubt my commitment and posed questions as to whether or not I was doing enough. Inspired and intrigued by this, I decided to take things to the next level and try my hand at saying no to single use plastic for a week.

The work week beckoned, and so the conundrum switched to the list of items to bring to the office. Metal cutlery? Check. Hankerchief? Check. Reusable grocery bag? Check. The list would be ever-expanding, as I soon discovered. Over at the canteen for lunch, I spied only non-recyclable plastic spoons and disposable chopsticks likely to have been made unsustainably from trees in the Brazilian Amazon. Consciously, I whip out my metal utensils and dig into my meal, ignoring stares headed in my direction.

A friend offers to buy a drink for me, and I accept. He returns barely 5 minutes later, to the absolute annoyance at myself for forgetting to inform him, with disposable plastic straws in both our glasses. I stare broodingly at the straw in disquiet over the course of the meal, refusing to drink from it even though it had already been contaminated and could not be reused. My companion notices and queries, to which I answer him. Fortunately, he found the cause to be worthy and, over the course of the week, happily joins me in my quest to be plastic-free. If it takes a single plastic straw to buy someone’s commitment to being green, then I feel that it’s a fair deal.

Every single time I was thirsty and wanted a cold drink, I had to drag myself away from the temptations of ‘Koi’ and ‘Gongcha’. This moral struggle reared its ugly head every time I had to make a decision. Remarkably, though, the ‘harder choice’ became easier to make as the days passed, to the point that my new choices simply became new habits. In the end, we all have the ability to make the call between going green or being outright apathetic.

Another emotion that plagued me throughout the week was a sense of hopelessness, and even guilt at times. We have watched countless videos and heard endless excerpts of how plastic pollution is rapidly killing our wildlife, especially those that live in our oceans. What stops us from acting, though, even when we know the problem? What we can do on our part to alleviate it?

There’s no utterly convincing proposition that would put those doubts to bed, but the way I see it, there is a countervailing argument and it very much depends on which side we want to be on. As Jane Goodall herself once said, “there’s still a lot left worth fighting for”. Trust in ourselves to make the principled decision and it will bear fruit. That can then develop into the springboard from which we kick off efforts to persuade others to go green as well. The way forward to spreading conscientious environmentalism is to influence others to recycle, reduce and reuse as well.

And it can start with something as small and as meaningful as a straw at lunch time.