A day before the Earth Day, a friend posted the photos above on Facebook with the following message “Don’t tell me using disposables has nothing to do with climate change. For a room full of scientists, engineers, policy makers, researchers and people otherwise dedicating their waking hours to addressing this issue, I don’t understand how one can eat, drink and socialize without confronting this harrowing irony. I was hungry and grabbed a piece of sandwich, but before I finished I had completely lost my appetite…. If we can’t stop rising sea levels from devouring Pacific islands, we can at least try to save ourselves from plastic hell. And apparently, we aren’t even doing that…”

Friends responding to her post asked if she had spoken to the organiser about it. She replied that she did not because she was so dismayed by it that she had to leave. She did email the organiser with a suggestion to stop using disposable plates, cups and cutlery, but was not optimistic that they could ditch the disposables the very next day.  In order to ensure that the organisers received my friend’s suggestion, I helped share her post and emailed it to the board of directors of one of the joint organisers. That evening, I received a reply from the chairperson of the board, which starts out:

Dear Rachel,

“We cannot change the world in one day. ”

I was very disappointed. We are actually not talking about one day, but one whole year. Last year, the joint organiser of this conference, also co-organised the Earth Day Summit and was caught handing out plastic bottled water to participants and was widely criticised for it. This year, they failed to learn that lesson and repeated the same, if not worse, mistake by handing out disposable plates, cups and cutlery. On the very next day of this Conference, the disposable plates and cutlery had been replaced by ceramic plates and metal cutlery! It turns out that we were able to change the world (at least a little) in one day! We owe joint organisers a big THANK YOU for responding to our suggestion and changing for the better overnight.  We hope that they’ll remember this when organising future conferences so that we won’t need to send them similar reminders year after year.

Here is another example of how individual action can lead to change.  A young woman whose family owns a wholesale fruit business told me that they used to supply coconuts to a very large supermarket chain wrapped in foam mesh (to avoid coconuts being damaged during shipping). As a result of complaints from customers and green groups about the environmentally unfriendly packaging, the supermarket chain requested that they stop packing the coconuts in foam (especially since the hard shell provides ample protection). This caused a ripple effect through the supply chain – the Thai exporter no longer packs the coconuts destined for this supermarket chain in foam – reducing the amount of waste ending up in our landfill.

Feeling hopeful?  Let’s speak up to make change happen!

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