Something to Think About: How Taking One Less Paper Napkin Can Change the World!

Submitted by Melanie Weiss

The cost of our daily actions

Every time we turn into a gas station and fill up our car’s gas tank, we have an opportunity to think about oil and the direct connection to the price we pay beyond our wallet, whether it is supporting oppressive political regimes in the Mideast or watching helplessly as millions of gallons of oil cause an ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

But oil is also present in so many of the little everyday decisions we make. It actually can be quite easy to reduce our dependence on oil and gas with simple changes that do not curtail our quality of life. Once we understand the cost of some of our daily actions, it becomes apparent that each of us making small changes can cooperatively reduce America’s consumption of oil.

Each product has a life cycle

One paper napkin. That is all it takes for us to realize how easy it is to cut our nation’s oil consumption. Consider the next time you eat out at a casual restaurant and grab a handful of paper napkins for your meal. Maybe you use two or three, tossing the rest in the garbage along with the trash.

Each product has a life cycle and these napkins started as a tree. First the tree was cut down, transported to a factory to be turned into pulp, fashioned and possibly bleached, and turned into a stack of napkins. For the next stop, these bales of napkins are transported to a warehouse and then shipped to a final destination.  After the napkins are discarded, a garbage truck arrives to take the waste miles and miles to be buried in a dump. When each of us takes fewer paper napkins, and makes a pledge to take what we need and waste not, think of all the energy, garbage space, and trees we have saved.

Everyday choices make a difference

The same can be said for many of our everyday choices, for instance bringing our own bags to the store saves more energy by reducing the need to manufacture and transport raw materials.  Not idling our cars saves gas and reduces the amount of C02 we spew into the air. Canceling junk mail saves not only trees but the energy it would have taken to get from point A to point B.

It takes 90 percent more energy to fashion an aluminum can out of virgin ore.  Recycle that aluminum can and in six weeks, it will be given new life and can be back on the store shelves.

Powering down our computers at night and when we are away from home or work saves not only energy, but reduces the amount of toxic mercury that coal-fired power plants spew into our atmosphere.

Making Our Mother Earth Proud

Environmental education may not be sexy, and many of us were not lucky enough to learn these lessons in school. More teachers are making environmental literacy an integral part of the curriculum, so students are growing up with their eyes wide open to the effects their actions have on our planet. And in that understanding there is hope for greater change. Many of the luxuries we have here in America come to us so effortlessly, it is easy to take them for granted.  But when we think about our consumption, and adjust our actions to be less wasteful, we are making an impact that would make our Mother Earth proud.

Melanie Weiss writes about environmental education from her home in Oak Park, IL

Related link:

20 minute video about the life cycle and the cost of our "stuff":    The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard