Waste Free

The ripple effect

Thank you to Sarah for writing today’s post. It is so interesting to hear other people’s stories. I hope you will find this interesting and maybe even get involved.

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Activism. Not really something I ever thought I’d be associated with, nor did I really understand what it was all about. But then 2020 hit. 

I’m Sarah, mum of two and a British expat currently living south of Boston, MA, and this is a quick introduction to our crazy family project that turned into a worldwide campaign. 

We moved to Cohasset, MA in the summer of 2018 for my husband, Phil’s job. We figured it would be an adventure, a way to broaden our horizons. But as anyone who has lived abroad will know, being a legal alien can be a rollercoaster. The highs are high and the lows are low! To cope with the stresses of settling into a new country I would take a walk on our local beach and pick up the trash I saw. In a big scary world full of life admin that sent my stress levels through the roof, the simple act of picking up litter and putting it in a bin made me feel in control and useful, like I was doing my bit.

On 31st December, 2019, we took our kids, Poppy and Toby, to the beach for some fresh air and exercise. We took a bag out of the car and quickly filled it with the trash washed in from the ocean. Our beach is a clean, well kept beach, but the amount of plastic pollution in our seas means that sadly no beach is immune from freshly washed-up garbage. We started to wonder  ‘what if everyone who went out for a walk picked up just one bag of trash?’ Imagine the difference they could make, imagine how much less rubbish there would be to harm animals and humans alike. And just like that @just1bag2020 was born. 

We came home, created an Instagram account and set a goal to collect, or inspire other people to collect, 2,020 bags in 2020. By January 15th we had tallied 27 bags and we’d collected 26 of them! 2,020 bags looked impossible! Winters in Massachusetts can be brutal and litter picking in -14C/7F means chipping snack packets out of frozen sand dunes. It’s not fun and I remember saying to Phil that if we end the year filling 366 bags because we’ve done one a day then that will be an achievement in itself. 

Then bit by bit, person by person all over the world, the bag numbers grew. By mid February we had reached 500 bags. 2,020 was not only possible but likely to be hit in the Spring. In fact we hit it on my 40th birthday in April. Given it was 2020 and everything was on lockdown, it made my birthday incredibly special! I joked that I didn’t need any presents, I just wanted people to go out and pick up trash 🙂 We smashed through 4,000 bags on Phil’s birthday 6 weeks later and we had to revise our goals.

20,000 bags and 2,020 people became our new target, and while the first goal seemed attainable (we hit it at the end of November), recruiting 2020 people to pick up a bag of litter felt like a lost cause. By 1st December, 1,100 people had filled a bag for us, but we still needed 920 more. People really rallied through December, encouraging their friends and neighbors to get involved, but Christmas Day came and we were still 250 people short! It was crunch time. Then everyone was out collecting trash! Inspired and cajoled by friends and social media posts, hundreds of people from all over the world went for a walk, took a bag with them, and picked up the litter they saw. We sat on the sofa speechless at the number of people tagging #just1bag2020 and getting out there to make a difference. By the end of the year, over 24,000 bags of litter were cleared out from the undergrowth, oceans, and streets by 2,142 people. 

2020 was a crazy year (understatement of the century!), and brought so many challenges and hurt for so many. For us, 2020 also showed our little family the power of community and of individual action. Our kids learned that you never give up, and that positive change can come from something as simple as picking up that plastic water bottle littering the ground instead of walking on by. 

And what now? In 2021 we registered Just1Bag2020 as an official 501(c)(3) non profit organization so we can continue to expand the impact of our campaign of environmental awareness, just one bag and just one person at a time. Check out our Instagram or Facebook pages or our website http://www.just1bag.us for more details or if you’d like to get involved.

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