Are my choices actually making a difference?

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I recently witnessed a social experiment take place at my High School, where a senior classmate placed a table in the middle of our common space with a bowl filled with a popular brand’s chocolates. A paper was placed to the left of the bowl with a folded piece of paper on top. The triangular folded piece of paper had in large font, “FREE Chocolate” and just below in smaller font it said, “made with child labor.” The paper to the left of the bowl had information about the company and child labor allegations. As the social experiment took place, I watched from a short distance. 

I observed student after student come by and take the little chocolates – some not seeing the sign and some possibly ignoring it – I questioned as to why people would take the chocolates. Some possible points as to why are the following:

  • The chocolate has already been bought, even if I take it, it will not contribute to the child labor taking place – if anything, the senior who bought the chocolate is contributing to it.
  • How does taking this one chocolate place all of these children into child labor?
  • More importantly, how does refusing to take the chocolate help the children affected by it?
Most of us are motivated to make better choices when we see issues, that we care about.

The sign next to the bowl of chocolate state, “FREE Chocolate” and just below in smaller font it said, “made with child labor.”

Many of us are motivated to make better choices when we see issues that we take to heart. Whether it is the plastic polluting our oceans, fossil fuels being burned for electricity, or even the mounds of wasted clothing from fast fashion. However, many of us struggle to continually make that decision.

Yes, not taking the chocolate may not free the children from slave labor, but the essence of the decision is important to remember. The reasoning that not doing something small or making that teeny tiny change will not affect anything, therefore, what is the harm of continuing these habits; that, is what leads to the haunting realities of our world. 

It is those evocative images that motivate us to want to change aspects in our lives in hopes that it will change our world.

We often times get stuck in a routine I’ll call, “the cycle of visuals.” It is those evocative images that motivate us to want to change aspects in our lives in hopes that it will change our world. But, over time, we don’t get updated and changed visuals of a situation that is improving. And sadly, without seeing the impact of our good choices, we may fall back into previous habits that have a negative impact on our world.

It’s the visual impact that motivates many of us. We are surrounded by bothersome images of marine life filled with plastic, huge waste piles of fast fashion, and beautiful nature being contaminated. Anyone even a little passionate about these environmental issues is surrounded by these images every day, yet when we try to make a positive impact by doing our part, it doesn’t stop the influx of these troubling images.

We are left to wonder, “am I even doing anything?”

Because we struggle to see the impact we are having when making these small, continuous choices, it makes it all too easy to revert back to what society has deemed normal and acceptable. When you start using reusable items and paper straws, yet still see so much plastic being dumped into the ocean it is hard to keep going. When we buy from sustainable fashion brands instead of fast fashion, yet still hear about child and slave labor being used to make more and more clothing, it is hard to keep going. 

When we make small & sustainable choices, we will see a difference.

Yet, when we remain strong and are advocates about being sustainable, reliable, and principled, our teeny tiny choices that seem to have a non-existent impact begin to grow, and eventually we will see that visual impact, which is so powerful.

So, you may be wondering, “what can I do?”

After all, you are a change-maker and want to save our beautiful home. In no particular order, here are some possible small, yet significant changes you can make in daily life:

  • Start using a reusable water bottle

Bottled water isn’t really beneficial to anyone! It is generally overpriced and is horrifyingly more expensive than tap water – up to 48% of bottled waters could just be tap water sold in a plastic bottle. Yikes!

  • Bring a reusable shopping bag with you to the store

Plastic bags are not cool. Created and used to replace the seemingly unsustainable paper grocery bag, these grocery bags are a no-no as they may save our trees on one end but definitely not on the other. But don’t go back to paper bags to carry your groceries! Paper bags actually require more energy to produce than plastic bags. Trust me – a reusable cloth or nylon grocery bag is your best bet.

  • Do a little research about the brands you are buying from

Just as many of my classmates did not know about the child labor allegations in regard to the popular chocolate brand, I’m sure many of us don’t know the full story about where many of our products come from. Ask yourself, do I know where (fill in item) came from? Who made it? Were they paid fairly for it? Was it even legal? You may find out a thing or two you weren’t expecting that could influence future decisions.

  • Donate clothing, books, other household items that are in good condition

An overwhelming amount of fast fashion ends up in landfills each year, while many people don’t have enough clothing. Choosing to donate some clothes can actually go a long way. These might be clothes that you thought you would wear when you bought them, but only wore it once or twice and to the back of the closet it goes! Or perhaps books you’ve just had lying on the shelf that you no longer love dearly, or even just the random item around the house that is in good condition, but you have no use for. All of these things can help someone else when they are of no use to you.

  • Learn about your area’s recycling regulations

Recycling is a tricky thing. Depending on where you live you might have extremely strict recycling regulations – ones that tell you where each item goes and how to recycle it. Or you may have a lenient, put all here, kind of recycling. Nonetheless, it is important to know what kinds of items you can recycle because truth be told, if you put the wrong recycling item in the wrong place, you could mess up that whole batch of recycling! That’s quite intimidating, don’t you think? But don’t be discouraged! Just do a little bit of research and you’ll be one of the most knowledgeable “recyclers” around!

Continue to make these small yet important decisions and you will see the impact and change. What will you decide to do first? Share your ideas below to inspire others to get involved. You will be the change.

Love, 妹妹 (MeiMei Elena)

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