The weekly exercise I decided to do was simple. Every day I would walk for around 25 minutes taking a plastic bag with me. I would look for bottles on the floor, that were not by a trash bin or plastic trash bags. The goal was collecting at least five to ten bottles each day. At the end of the week, the idea is to put all of this bottles in a proper recycling container where they now belong.
The idea was inspired by artists like On Kawara that repeated gestures every day. But in this case, the goal was to think about how a small, almost insignificant gesture, could make a small change. Maybe not an important one, but more than doing nothing. This exercise served as a metaphor for social change in any possible field of action we can think of. I often make myself this question: As individuals are we capable of changing society in a verifiable way? I used to think it’s very little what we can do. Now, my point of view has changed. Small actions produce change. We may not notice it immediately, but it’s real. It keeps adding and we eventually see it. It’s simple math but it works.
I thought that it would be easy to find 10 bottles in a 25-minute walk. But that was not always the case. In the process of doing this, I felt a contradiction. I felt happy when I found each bottle, but at the same time guilty of being happy about a bad action by an unknown citizen.
I found that the most important part of this action was not taking the bottles from the floor and placing them in recycling bins, but the fact that people would watch a stranger picking up a dirty bottle. That gross action (parents usually tell you not to pick dirty things from the street) was in fact not so gross in ethical terms. It creates a modest statement that hopefully will make some people at least think twice before they throw bottles in the streets.