When facing big problems such as climate change, it can feel like that only steps that have the biggest potential impact are worth pursuing.
There are many examples that fall into this category. The ban on plastic bags and plastic straws is a classic one. Many people say that it doesn’t matter for plastic pollution if we use plastic straws or not, because if you summed up all waste from straws, it still would be a small percentage of the total plastic waste.
Another, more personal example: After a few years of absence from entrepreneurship, I’ve recently co-founded a company that makes it simple for e-commerce merchants to offer reusable shipping boxes (called Ravioli). From an environmental standpoint, reusing shipping boxes makes sense, since single-use cardboard boxes generate a lot of waste, and recycling is an energy-intensive process.
We had people tell us that this is not worth doing, since the total impact of cardboard box waste and recycling is small compared to some other things, like switching the world to renewable energy.
This is not a constructive way to think about change.
Cutting out plastic straws and plastic bags are a first step in the right direction. They help to decrease environmental pollution. Furthermore, they help to increase the importance of these issues in people’s minds. They lead to positive changes in people’s behavior.
If all e-commerce merchants in Germany shipped their products in reusable boxes instead of single-use cardboard boxes, German greenhouse gas emissions would decrease by 1%. Does this alone avert the catastrophic effects of climate change? Of course not. But if 100 other companies in 100 other industries would do the same, we could go a long way.
We couldn’t have started this company 5 years ago, the public awareness for reusability just wasn’t there. This fact is also exemplified by the rise of reusable cups: In German cities, the adoption of reusable cups for take out drinks and food is growing quickly. So much so that, starting 1 January 2023, restaurants are required by law to offer reusable cups and bowls. Now, a world where we get rid of almost all single-use items seems in close reach.
Banning plastic bags on its own might not stop climate change, but it sure as hell helped us to get here.
People who think small steps are not worth pursuing can fuck right off. Small steps matter. Steps lead to more steps.