One cup, one habit, one planet

It wouldn’t be a New Year without talk of New Year’s resolutions.  Many people contemplate gaining this new habit or losing that one and a lot of time is spent planning and thinking.  Habits—good, bad or otherwise—are our guidance systems and attempt to keep us on track.  Changing that track can be a challenge.  Though…it’s not impossible.

If individually we have habits, so too, do I believe that collectively, we also have habits.  That is to say, our culture has habits.  Truthfully, any culture has habits but it is mine that I have wondered about more recently.  And in wondering about habits, it occurred to me that in some ways, it’s no surprise our society continues to pull resources from dwindling supplies while spewing out waste.  It’s our habit to do this.

Chris Jordan, a compelling visual artist, attempts with his art to show what the scope of individual actions in Western Culture look like when counted together.   I watched him recently in a TED talk and his images demonstrate our culture’s habits rather uniquely.  One that he shared is of paper cups which, as we know, are used mainly for hot beverages—typically coffee.  The number used in a day is so vast at 40 million, that he couldn’t capture it on a canvas.  So, instead, he captured 15 minutes worth of cups—410000.  To understand a day’s worth of cups he took that 15 minute image and combined it with multiples of itself and then provided a scale reference—a couple of people and the Statue of Liberty—all completely dwarfed by cups.  The image is hard to fathom.

It’s an interesting exercise contemplating our collective habits.  One that comes to mind is that, coffee cups aside, most of us recycle.  But I think most of us also still put out some garbage for pick up.  Why would we still have that habit?  As I see it, we continue to have items come into our possession that we deem as garbage (another way put:  items are created that can pretty much only be garbage when we are finished with them).  Secondly, we think it is okay to put garbage out at the curb to be taken away somewhere.     ….well, to be honest, I don’t believe that everyone thinks this is okay.  But as a society we continue to accept single use items or inferior quality through built-in obsolescence.  The result of which is that items quickly become useless.  It wasn’t always this way.

As a group or society, one habit that goes both ways (though mostly one way) is recycled paper.  Despite its availability, as a society, we mostly don’t use recycled paper.  One way I know this is the number of brands of paper that I see that are 100% recycled compared to non-recycled when I walk down store aisles.  It’s the same with paper towel, toilet paper and copy paper.  Off the top of my head, for toilet paper, it’s easily 6 to 1 against.  What does this say about our concerns for forests?  We have an option but as a society or culture, our habit is that most don’t take it.  (Silently, are we therefore agreeing that it’s okay to flush trees down toilets?)

It’s true that the process of recycling paper isn’t without its problems but I’d sooner see us sort that out, or better, go tree-free, than cut all our forests down and then have to figure it out.  With our current practices, once a forest is cut, humans may be able to replant trees (and even that is debatable) but we cannot re-grow a forest.  Those replanted trees become a form of agriculture complete with pesticides, herbicides, other chemicals and neat tidy rows.  This is not the home it once was for the animals and birds, bugs and other plants that once lived there.

Individually as we enter a new year, many of us are planning to make changes in our habits which will, if successful, result in positive changes in our personal lives.  How will we do as a culture?  Will our personal habit changes help to sway our society’s habits towards being less harmful to the planet?  Will you, next time, select an option that someone has endeavoured to provide that is a little more ‘green’?  Will you create a new option that others can use?

Habits are powerful forces in our lives.  They can keep us safe as a seat belt protects us in a car crash.  Or, they can harm us and the other occupants of our home (earth).  When we take into consideration that we are a very large group when counted together, the result of our individual habits can be immense; for bad or for good.

Planning any new ‘green’ habits for 2012?  Please share them with us in the comments below.

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7 Responses to One cup, one habit, one planet

  1. Great post Deanna! I’m committing to use my canvas shopping bags. I always forget them in the car or at home. Then end up with a truck load of paper shopping bags in my house (which is not good for our trees).

    • Deanna says:

      Hi Michelle, Thanks for your comment! Good luck with those bags! Our challenge is getting them back out to the car after we’ve brought in our groceries. Cheers!

  2. Raili says:

    Great post Deanna, I’m looking forward to the next.
    We were talking just the other day about how we’ve seen societal habits being shaped over the decade by interest groups like MADD who lobby, advertise and educate enough that people get the message that DRINKING AND DRIVING IS BAD. Unfortunately it tends to take terrible events to get people invested in groups like MADD, and I can’t envision a similar scenario for the paper cup crisis.
    The drive-thru coffee phenomenon is one of the weirdest habits our society’s developed – just think for a minute about everything that’s involved when you finally open your car window and exchange two bucks for a cup of coffee. Imagine what visiting aliens would think…

    • Deanna says:

      Hey Raili, Thanks for your comments! Aliens…a good question. ….And it’s hard to imagine things being any different then they are. You know…’of course we have drive thrus’. It’s like it’s always been that way….it’s been normalized! I wonder if any stats exist for the amount of exhaust going into the atmosphere thanks to line ups at coffee places and restaurants….not to mention the cups! Then there’s the damage to car engines. From a guy I recently met who is advocating for idlefree cities, he was saying that idling is actually bad for today’s car engine. I don’t think many people know that. :-\

    • Muhammad says:

      I am working on tnyrig to eat healthier by making smarter choices and planning. If you don’t plan then you have the fast food rest. knocking on your door. I also plan on preparing and eating fresh foods and stay away from the processed foods as much as possible. My son who watched Food Inc. even suggests we try and purchase our fruits and veggies from the farmer’s market and not the grocery store. I am also tnyrig to incorporate working out at least 5 times a week. Whether it is bootcamp, running, biking or even walking the dog. If you throw exercise into your daily schedule, I think it helps you clear your mind and helps you eat healthier and feel better about yourself overall. You always feels better after a good work out and good healthy food. (I believe it gives you more energy). One last thing I am going to incoporate into my daily life is a positive and healthy mind set of the way I think.

  3. Anna says:

    Hey Deanna,
    Thanks for the great post! My commitment is to reduce the amount of ‘packaging’ I accumulate when visiting the supermarket, from the various products. For example, when buying vegetables, not putting them into the plastic bags provided, but putting them straight into the canvass bag. I hope this is making sense! It makes me a little cranky when I see companies over package their products too.

    • Deanna says:

      Hi Anna,

      Thanks for checking out my blog post! Your commitment is one like we’re doing. We actually reuse plastic bags (the ones from the vegetables at the grocery store) back again at the grocery store. We wash them and store them along with the rest of our containing ‘devices’. We use them for other things too. I would love to take all the bread bags we’ve got back to the bakery down the road where we got them!

      I was helping a friend the other day with getting groceries and my friend had mesh bags she’d gotten to use in place of those plastic ones for veggies. I thought that was neat. Where I live, I can’t recycle plastic bags or plastic wrap. It’s very annoying. We re-use what we can but still most of our garbage is plastic! …or stryofoam (same problem)

      Good luck!

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