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Living By Example

We live in a plastic-burdened world, and the effort to avoid the pervasive material entails some obvious inconvenience. We must remember our reusable containers and utensils, debate tares with grocery cashiers, and our Trader Joe’s shopping list gets slashed to a tenth. 

But these are shallow nuisances. The real challenge is to get others to do the same- it takes more than the effort of a single individual to save the world from a problem that we have all created. 

Last month, I picked up my family at LAX and we drove out to Joshua Tree. When we stopped for food and water before entering the park, I hauled four empty gallon containers to the Penguin water refill machine outside the store while my dad went inside for groceries. As I held the last container up to fill, the automatic doors of the Ralphs parted to make way for my dad’s shopping cart. 

The cart rattled past me and into the shimmering heat of the parking lot, and I squinted at the bluish glow inside the metal basket. Was this a mirage? Inside the cart I saw not just food - but a pack of single-use plastic water bottles. 

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Had he not heard me railing on about the EVILS of the plastic water bottle industry? Had I not very nicely and directly asked him to abstain from plastic water bottles himself? Was I not - at that very moment - filling reusable water bottles? 

How does one re-re-approach an issue without making the other person defensive?

Frustrated and sweating as I transported twenty-four pounds of perfectly drinkable, zero-waste water back to the car, I decided on the “must’ve been a misunderstanding” approach. 

I peered into his cart. “Ahhhh…. I already took care of the drinking water!” I gestured at my four gallons. 

“But these are better for hiking” He gestured at his plasticky twelve-pack. 

“But we already brought refillable bottles” I gestured to the refillable water bottles sitting in the trunk. 

“But that’s a lot of work.” He protested. 

“What’s a lot of work?” 

“Remembering to fill them” 

“I’ll remember” 

He let me return the plastic bottles. It was a grueling victory, but made me realize that spewing disheartening facts about plastic pollution isn’t enough to change habits. 

By example, we have to prove that our reusable solutions to the plastic crisis really are solutions and not just ethical trends. While I’d love if my distressed diatribes about water bottles had launched my dad into the plastic-free action, the reality is that like most of us, he’s just looking for conveniences to mitigate the pandemonium of everyday life.

When our lives are a game of whack-a-mole that we can’t look up from, it’s hard to see that - in the words of activist Greta Thunberg- the house is on fire. 

 My new approach to putting out our house fire  has less to do with talking about problems and evangelizing the ideals of a plastic-free world, and more about offering solutions and living by example. It’s a lot less convenient. But wouldn’t I be a hypocrite if I was looking for convenience? 

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