November 3, 2010 at 1:20 pm , by Ladies' Lounge
Three years ago, I read an article and saw a photo that changed my life and helped me realize that I had the power to make a difference. The article was about the growing problem of ocean plastic pollution, and the photo was of a dead albatross chick whose body was full of ordinary plastic pieces it had mistaken for food: plastic bottle caps, little plastic toys, even a toothbrush. In that moment, I suddenly realized my direct connection to other living creatures on this planet. Plastic was something I had control over, and I knew I had to act.
When I started my blog, Fake Plastic Fish, to keep track of my personal plastic consumption and report on plastic-free alternatives, I had no idea the impact and reach it would have or the lives it would change. I only knew I had to start with myself. Along the way, I have learned a few lessons about how we can take an idea or a cause that we care about and get results.
Trust your voice. How many of us have a great idea or cause we care about and feel that no one will listen to our opinion? Learning to speak up is empowering. And all it takes is practice. Speaking up to store managers about their plastic bags or visiting schools to talk about plastic pollution was hard for me at first. But the more I do it, the more confident I become.
Seek support. Yes, it’s important to start with ourselves, but real change takes many hands and voices. Writing one letter to a company is great. But encouraging others to write letters too, creating a petition, or joining an organization already working on the issue are ways to magnify your impact.
Use the Internet. The Internet makes it easier than ever to spread your message. Using my blog, Facebook, Twitter, email, and online petition software, I spearheaded a campaign to get Brita to take back and recycle their plastic water filter cartridges. Social media helped me connect up with other bloggers who could help me spread the word. And asking people to mail me their used cartridges made a huge visual impact.
Do your homework. Before contacting a company, writing a blog post or letter to the editor, or creating a petition, make sure you have your facts straight. Do some basic research. You don’t have to be an expert, and you shouldn’t let fear of being wrong stop you from acting. But having a clear understanding of the issue you’re tackling will give you confidence and help your cause.
Be persistent. Sometimes change happens over night. Once, I wrote to the owner of a small company about her plastic packaging, and she asked me to help her change it. Within one month, she had completely switched over to recycled paper. The Brita campaign, on the other hand, took 7 months of hard work and diligence. What kept me going was knowing that the only way I would fail is if I gave up early. Seeing a campaign through can be tiring but also incredibly empowering.
Give yourself a break. Persistence is important, but so is taking time out to rest and rejuvenate. Working nonstop is the way to burnout and disillusionment. For me, taking time in nature to remember why I am doing this work in the first place is what keeps me going. That, and playing with my rascally kitties who never take me too seriously.
What I’ve learned is that each of us has the power to change the world for good. We just have to learn to use it. When you care deeply enough about an issue to take that first step, a door opens through which you might never go back. —Beth Terry
By day, Beth Terry works as an accountant for a local home care agency, but nights and weekends she becomes an activist blogger writing about plastic-free living at FakePlasticFish.com. She’s a contributing editor to BlogHer.com and an advisor to the Plastic Pollution Coalition. Join Beth Terry via the web this Saturday, November 6, for the worldwide webcast of TEDx: Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an unprecedented event bringing together experts, activists, and artists like Van Jones, David de Rothschild, Jackson Browne, and Ed Begley Jr to speak about solutions to the plastic pollution problem. Beth Terry will add her voice to the mix, speaking about her plastic-free life and leading by example.