Christie Abdul-Greene was snorkeling in Indonesia when she came across an unpleasant sight: garbage.
Gobs of garbage — mostly plastic — floated past her. There was so much that she had to push it out of the way.
"It was disgusting, and I was so sad," she said. "I've snorkled in a lot of places and have never seen that before."
On that same trip four years ago, Abdul-Greene went hiking in the mountains and saw communities pile plastic and other garbage outside. When it rained, the trash washed into the ocean.
It got her thinking about humanity's plastic consumption, taking note of the amount of plastic her family used at home in Elkhorn.
"Plastic is all over the place," she said. "I observed how much trash we were throwing away, and I was worried about my kids' future."
She and her husband, Mike Greene, started making subtle changes when they'd grocery shop. Instead of buying a plastic gallon of milk, she opted for the paper version. She brought her own mesh bags for fruit and vegetables instead of using the plastic bags provided by the store, and she took her whole haul home in reusable grocery bags.
This year, she decided to involve the rest of her family. The first step was to show everyone, specifically her teens Ashton Abdul, 16, and Bethany Abdul, 13, how much plastic they used each month.
"They thought I was a little crazy — they're teenagers," Abdul-Greene said. "We'd been talking about it for a long time but I wanted them to have a visual."
For an entire month, the family kept every bit of plastic they used. She even asked Ashton and Bethany to bring plastic items home.
"If they got a plastic cup from Taco Bell, I asked them to bring it back," she said.
At the end of the month, her kids were shocked to see the amount of plastic strewn all over their kitchen floor.
"I asked them, 'Imagine if we had to throw this in our backyard each month. What would you do?'" Abdul-Green said. "They said they would use less plastic. They then started making their own observations."
The next month, the family's goal was to do the best they could not buying or using plastic. At the end of that month, they noticed their pile had been cut in half.
They've done a lot of other things as well. The family, who spends a lot of time in the car, created travel containers that includes reusable straws, cups, forks, knives and other utensils. They also keep reusable bags handy in the car for any outing such as shopping at a department store.
"That's generated some really interesting conversations. A lot of people say 'It seems so big; I don't think I'll make a difference,'" she said. "If I take it down to how it'll impact them as an individual, they wouldn't want that stuff sitting in their living room or backyard."
Abdul-Greene encourages other families to think about their plastic usage and ways they can cut back.
She suggests making small changes, such as creating a reusable car kit, carrying reusable bags and being conscious of choosing alternatives to plastic when grocery shopping, such as buying fresh fruit and vegetables instead of pre-cut options stored in plastic containers, or getting bars of soap instead of product sold in plastic jugs.
"If you feel like you're struggling, just pick one thing you're going to focus on a month. Don't try and do it all at once," she said. "And don't stress if you have to buy something in plastic. Some people have a goal of being completely plastic-free, which is great, but you don't have to do that to make a difference."
There are also tons of groups on Facebook devoted to using less plastic. There people can find support and ways to make it fun for the whole family.
Abdul-Greene said they're still going strong. They have less stuff in their house. They're taking out half the trash cans on trash day. Oftentimes they have more recycling than they do trash. Even her kids have continued to stay on board most days. She's even seen them call out their friends on their plastic use.
"I feel almost a sense of relief that I’m not throwing a bunch of stuff back onto the Earth. It’s almost a peaceful feeling," she said.
The biggest thing she wants people to know: "You do make a difference. You can start small and grow."