Sunday August 25, 2013 | 08:56 AM
Posted by Harold Johnson

In a world full of challenges, it can feel overwhelming to try and make a difference. No matter what it is that you care about.

Obviously for me, I care about a clean & healthy ocean. But the world’s oceans cover 139 million square miles. They’re all fouled with plastic to some extent, and the plastic industry juggernaut pumps out billions of tons of new packaging/wrap/furniture/toys every year.

What can one person do?

Do one thing. One thing at a time.

If a 1000-mile journey begins with a step, so does a change of attitude. So, bringing reusable bags to the grocery store. That’s one thing I started doing. In a short while it became second-nature. Time for another one thing. Maybe buy local milk, bottled in glass. Then another -- say, buying eggs only in cardboard containers.

And on and on.

Before I knew it, I’d built up a large collection of “one thing”s. And I was surprised at how easy it is. How much we can change our lifestyle without ever feeling like we’ve made significant sacrifices -- or even really changing our lifestyle!

So now it’s time for my next one thing.

We love going to the diner for breakfasts on the weekend. My wife & I both love a good cup of coffee to start the day, heavy with ½ & ½.

Each of us can easily use 3 creamers to a cup, plus one or two more with a refill. Which leaves a wreckage of tiny plastic containers and plastic lids behind. It’s such a waste.

Now some people will say that the diner is responsible for getting that waste to a dumpster, and that the waste company is responsible for getting it to an incinerator.

I feel differently.

The responsibility lies with me. I’m the one who started the process. And if those little creamer containers & lids escape into the environment, that’s on me.

So my new one thing is to bring our own ½ & ½ any time we’re headed out for a diner breakfast.

5 seconds to pour some ½ & ½ into a reusable container at home. 8-10 coffee creamers & lids taken out of the equation, with each breakfast out. A very simple thing, and let’s be honest -- not a sacrifice.

Will this small act change the world? No. It might get noticed, or be a conversation-starter. But mostly, it will be another “one thing” that I’ve done to lessen the plastic burden I leave behind.

And really, the whole tapestry of life is strung together from singular, little things.

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About the Author

Visiting a Maine beach in March 2010, Harold Johnson was shocked by the ocean-borne debris left by recent storms. He grabbed a garbage bag and a camera, and hasn’t looked back.

Since then he has spent most of his free time studying marine pollution, coastal ecosystems, and the mysteries and science of ocean and shore.

Copyeditor and writer by trade, historian and archaeologist at heart, Johnson’s philosophy is simple: Dig below the surface, travel the currents, make the connections, learn. Then share what you learn. He lives in Saco with his wife and young daughter. Follow on Twitter @FlotsamDiaries.

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