Understanding what it takes to change behavior fascinates me. Change is da** near impossible sometimes, or at least it seems that way. Until we have a paradigm shift and we suddenly see a new way of doing something that attained an outcome we never believed could happen. That’s what’s happened to me recently. And I’m embarrassed and proud to share this one with you.

Confession time: In the US I was a downright god-awful contributor to our environment. As someone who loves to tiddy up, I would throw away so much stuff, and tell myself it was ok because I was also donating a ton. But I accumulated stuff, and threw stuff away. I probably could have recycled more, I didn’t. And I had NO idea what single-use plastic was and I definitely didn’t feel like I was part of the plastic problem. I told myself that if I recycled all my amazon boxes, and did a half way decent job at recycling, that I was doing my part. And I had no idea of how much water I used, nor did I think to even consider it. It was there, and I paid for what I used monthly, so why would I consider turning water off when not using it? Like I said – it was *bad*, but I didn’t even know it. To some extent, I didn’t even care. Ouch. There it is. I said it.

Fast forward to today – As a family of 5, we have decreased our weekly trash output by at least half, maybe more. We recycle everything. We never use plastic baggies or saran wrap, and all our kids only use re-useable containers in their lunches. We air-dry all our laundry and we use limited water.

Some of this we don’t have a choice about; we literally don’t have a dryer. And we have to limit water use because we’re not on city water – we actually have a water tank and sieve that collects rain water, and when we run out … we run out.

But how did I become someone who produces less trash, and who changed to use less plastic?

Two ways:

  1. They made me pay for it
  2. I was shamed into the behavior

Maybe that sounds funny, but let me tell you something, it worked! 🙂

In NZ the city will take your recycling for free. But if you want them to pick up your trash, you have to put a $3 sticker on the bag. And that bag had better not weigh more than a certain number of kilos.

Now a $3 sticker is not the end of the world, but it’s a pain in the butt to go buy those stickers if you run out. And if every week you have to weigh your trash before you put a sticker on it, you might think about how much trash you’re putting on the curb. And if you look around and you’re the only one with two or three bags, you might start to feel sheepish about it. So you start asking yourself: is there anything in there I could recycle? What about food we could have composted?

Yes. it’s true. We compost now. Jesse actually had to watch a YouTube video to sort out how to do it, because we literally had no idea, but we have a pile now, and even Julien is onboard because that’s his household chore – to bring food to the compost pile.

In NZ you are constantly reminded that you are responsible for your own trash. The kids come home with all their trash from their lunch in their lunch bag (in the US you never know what they’ve eaten b/c it’s all thrown out.) Not here. You are responsible for disposing of (and paying for), that trash. If you have an office, you probably won’t find a trashcan … the message is, take it with you. Be aware, constantly, of how much trash you produce. Believe me, if works.

But the Ziploc baggies? And the Saran wrap? They’re just so convenient!!

Well, the behavioral change there came about indirectly, through the kids. Because within a matter of days, the kids came home from school to say that it was a huge no-no to have any plastic in their lunches, or anywhere for that matter. They told me that they could only use containers or wax wraps.

Well, I was dubious about these so-called wax wraps, but I bought them anyway. Because I didn’t want to be “that parent.”

And now, I am a convert. Holy moly. Is it because the honey here is so much better than in the US (the Manuka honey)? I don’t know, but these things work: they stick, they are re-useable again and again, and they’re incredible (and pretty too, by the way!) If you want to order some (they ship to the US, and no I am not paid to tell you this), you can find them here.

My behavioral change was swift: make me pay for the trash I put out, shame me into putting less out, and teach our kids early on that plastic is not acceptable and presto, we have a much greener version of myself that I like so much better!

I think maybe we think that we can’t make a difference, but you know what, as a family of 5, here’s how I think I can quantify these changes:

  • 1 box less of Ziploc baggies / month, the 50 count – that’s 600 baggies we’re not dumping (and I’m not even counting the large freezer ones we used to use for marinades …)
  • 1 box less of Saran wrap / two months, the 200 sq feet count – that’s 1200 square feet or plastic we’re not dumping out there
  • 1 bag / week less of trash every month that’s not going to the dump (most of which probably can’t decompose) – that’s about 144 Kilos of trash (317 lbs) I’m not sending to the dump each year.

It matters. We matter. And we can make a difference.
Of all the things I’ve learned this year, this may be the single most important lesson I needed to learn.

Oh, and one more thing, while I’m out here confessing … I own a pair of Birkenstocks now. I can’t even with that. But it’s true. And they’re comfortable, dam**.

OMG. What is happening down here??

Frederique

Frederique

Hi. I'm Frederique. You can call me Fred. I am the founder and CEO of Her Corner Inc., a global network of women business owners committed to growth in their businesses. When I'm not managing the business operations of Her Corner, you can find me either running accelerator programs for Her Corner members or at the Kogod School of Business at American University where I teach entrepreneurship, business management and organizational behavior. I am passionate about the topic of Entrepreneurship, and in particular the State of Entrepreneurship for Women.
Frederique

Latest posts by Frederique (see all)