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Monday, June 7, 2010

War on Garbage: The personal is political

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We're in the kitchen, three of us. He's fixing a sandwich to gobble on his way upstairs to an important phone call.

She's fixing snacks for the little ones before we rush out the door to pick up the oldest.

I'm fixing to ride along and catch a train.

Bustling and bubbling with news, ideas, catch-up, there's no time to sit down and get to the heart of things. We're jabbering on the fly. The topic is plastics. Conversation goes something like this.

He: "I think you're wasting a lot of energy eliminating plastics from your life when the problem is so much bigger."

She: "Yes. The problem is bigger than you. Why don't you work on changing how plastics are recycled? Make it easier for all of us to recycle all our plastics? That would have a bigger impact."

Me: "Yes, recycling is critical, but it's a stop-gap, not the solution. Polymers are getting into us, into the kids. I have to do what I can to limit their exposure, our exposure. And what about all those poor sea creatures swallowing so much plastic they suffocate and die? (Call me a bleeding heart.) No matter how much I recycle, I can't be sure some of my plastic crap won't end up choking a giant sea turtle, or floating in the great Pacific gyre."

Not exactly a 30-second elevator speech

Boy, do I wish I had already perfected my thirty-second elevator Why-I'm-Pitching-Plastic speech. It would go something like this.

Giving up plastics is something like giving up cigarettes. Many of us stopped smoking a long time ago. We didn't want a slow, suffocating death. A lot of the PCBs, BPAs and phthalates circulating in our bodies, in our children's bodies, in every mother's breast milk, will never leave us. No one knows what slow, agonizing deaths we may be generating. There are pointers, but too few studies tell us anything for sure. Why take the chance? We need to stop ingesting them. To do that, we need to stop bringing them into our environment.

It makes no difference whether we're manufacturing or re-manufacturing plastic, we're putting toxic polymers and their relatives into the atmosphere, into the water, into the ground, and yes, into our bodies.

Of course, that's not the whole story. Plastic is made from fossil fuels and, it bears repeating, very difficult to recycle. Sure we can make it from corn and soybeans. On a planet of 6.8 billion people (more than double the 1959 total of 3 billion), and expected to increase to 9 billion before mid-century, which is more important: crops for food, or crops for plastic and profit?

I get that plastic is endemic. I get that I can't escape it. Shoot, I'm having a heck of a time simply slowing down my use of plastics, let alone eliminating them. Still. I absolutely have to take responsibility for my part of the problem.

So I'm doing something about it, personally and politically. When I slow the flow of plastic items into our home, when I choose plastic-free alternatives, I vote.

(To the tune of D-i-v-o-r-c-e)

One vote doesn't make much difference, but it is part of my personal goal to live consciously, and by writing about it here, I lend support to all the others reducing their plastic consumption. As more and more of us talk about what we're doing, we learn how many others are voting with their dollars, how many are writing letters to manufacturers, city officials, legislators and senators asking for change.

We connect. We learn from each other. We discover we're not alone, we're not an insignificant voice, and we are growing in numbers.

Worth my time, how about yours?

We have to stop bringing so much plastic into our environment, our homes and our bodies.

That's why reducing the plastic in my life is worth my energy, worth my time and is a political act. Yes, I will continue to work toward better and better recycling options, but what I do--or not--with plastics every single day counts.

What you do counts, too. It's our collective actions and choices that got us into this mess. We are the ones who can get us out. There's no denying plastic raises a lot of tough issues. What do you think are the best ways to solve the problem? Do you (will you) vote with your dollars and demand plastic-free alternatives wherever possible?

The more we vote with our dollars on the plastic issue, the sooner viable solutions will become profitable and real, and the closer we get to a world a whole lot more like the Village of Ordinary.

We make peace in a million small ways every day.
All text and images, unless otherwise noted, copyright L. Kathryn Grace. All rights reserved.

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Wanda said...

Working on it. I must admit, my desire to eliminate plastic has much more to do with not wanting to ingest it--but if it is good for me it will also be good for the planet. Right?

Kathryn Grace said...

Wanda: Yes!

dutchbaby said...

Hear, hear! I've never liked plastic and food together, especially in microwave ovens. It was always counter-intuitive for me to eat hot food out of soft plastic containers. I love glass. Not only is it beautiful, but it's completely recyclable and it does not have the unhealthy side effects of plastic. Stainless steel's great too!

Deb Shucka said...

Thanks for the compelling reminder. I'm mindful and working in that direction.

Hayden said...

Right now I'm stymied. I'm trying to find a water filter, but all of them seem to deposit the water into.... plastic. Have you run into one that uses glass bottles?

Kathryn Grace said...

dutchbaby, I agree, glass is more beautiful than plastic! We've been using glass containers in our home for about ten years. They take up more space, but you can tell instantly what's in the bowl. Less food waste! Like you, I don't like reheating in plastic. Never could stand the smell and taste--I have a sensitive pallet, apparently. Now science tells us there's a reason for it. Heat and plastic just don't mix.

Deb, you're welcome. It's all one step at a time, isn't it? Like anything else.

Hayden, I'm sorry I don't know of a glass filter. If anyone would know, Real Goods would. They're affiliated with Gaiam, now, I believe. A non-profit water is helping people in third world countries make water filters of clay, which they claim filter 99 percent of impurities.

Kathryn Grace said...

Hayden, apologies. I wrote that without checking my source. The non-profit doing clay water filters is, and there are several other organizations with various versions on the concept. Their filter won't help with tap water all that much, unless one is very patient, but in checking my sources, I discovered there are some commercial ceramic water filters on the market. I won't try to list them here, since I'm using a mobile device, but you may find something suitable through an online search.

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