just one word
Sorry I missed yesterday — family comes before work (otherwise, what’s the point of work?)
Friday I spent most of my day at home, working on various projects, and did not come across much plastic just drifting across my path. I was sewing, and reached for a new spool of thread. That’s when I saw that it was sheathed in plastic, I guess to keep it clean or from unspooling. Funny, the more expensive brands of thread don’t use plastic; just the cheap thread, those that I grabbed 5 for $1. And guess what? Made in China.
I don’t know this for a fact, but I’m guessing that it’s difficult or impossible to find made-in-America thread anymore. Most of our textiles have been shipped from elsewhere. It’s possible to find clothing that’s made in America (American Apparel is one such brand), but the sources or the products to make that clothing seems to come from elsewhere. “Elsewhere” usually means China. China is, unfortunately, not exactly synonymous with high quality or concern for the planet. (Hey, with lead in their baby formula, candy and toys, doesn’t seem like China is all that concerned about her own people.) The “made in China” issue is a huge one that affects everyone in the USA — you can’t get a light bulb or a battery or a kajillion other things anymore unless it’s been shipped from afar. To read more on this, visit some of the blogs of folks who are trying to live without “made in China” — they are living with a lot less than I am without plastic. (I’d post a link here, but there are too many — do a little surfing and see what you find.)
So: plastic. The three plastics that crossed my path yesterday were: the spool of thread, the plastic film on a pack of cigarettes (not mine; I’ve never smoked), and the ubiquitous plastic milk jug. It’s not my smoking habit and I don’t buy them, but I notice that almost all packs have the plastic film (not sure about American Spirits or the roll-your-own kind). This is one of the ambient plastics that I see all the time in gutters, blowing around at parks and beaches. The little plastic rip cord, the rest of the wrap — it doesn’t go away when you finish your cigarette. It’s here for a thousand years. Please find a place to recycle it.
Then the milk jug. This was where I paused to consider my commitment to purging plastic. We’re running out of milk. I didn’t want to make a special trip out to get milk today, Saturday. I was at Walgreen’s. I went to the refrigerator aisle and there was all this milk, Berkeley Farms, local to our area. All in jugs. Not a single carton to be had. And I almost bought it. The pain-in-the-ass quotient was that high. How important is this? my little naughty voice said. (The problem with the little naughty voice is that it often sounds so reasonable. You have to really listen to hear the wickedness.) What’s the big deal? The jug is recyclable. You won’t have to drive in the evil car, spewing terrible fumes and carbon monoxide, wheedled the voice.
Well, I didn’t do it. I walked away. I was annoyed, and rightly so, because why should we have to make such ethical choices? Why aren’t plastic-free options more readily available? Why should we have to choose between feeding our families at the expense of the planet, or doing without? It’s a small suicide some days, when you have to choose to wait or do without because the best or better option isn’t there.
Is plastic such a big deal? It is, actually. It’s tied up in the production of cheap food and goods, which is tied to farm subsidies for the big growers and tax breaks for large corporations like Chevron and Dow and Monsanto and Procter & Gamble, corporations that don’t pay taxes and don’t give a flying hoot about our health, much less Planet Earth. They push their products on us, preying on our insecurities (do I smell? am I fat? am I old?) and our primal weaknesses (mmm, fat and sugar! easy calories! me sleep now, no make fire!). They cost us millions and billions in health dollars, as we deal with the effects of fat bodies, high blood sugar, cancer and heart disease. National economics and politics are at play: Who’s lining whose pocket, who has the dough, where can we get more and still not be held accountable?
Do you really think we’re at war in Iraq and elsewhere because of democracy? How about petroleum –the nipple for our driving fetish, our addiction to electricity, and the source of plastics? If I’ve hit a nerve, good. Think about the ripple-effect of your plastics consumption: one plastic bottle, one plastic sandwich bag, one ambient rip cord or shrink wrap. Particularly think about it when you’re filling up you gas tank and whining about the cost.
Here’s a link to an article about how some manufacturers are actually reducing their plastic packaging, especially the ubiquitous and hateful “clamshell” packaging — why? Because the cost of oil to make the plastic is so high that it’s cutting into their profits. We who share the planet are the lucky beneficiaries of such a move, but don’t be fooled. It’s not just cuz they’re nice people. And that’s why I didn’t take the plastic milk jug and am going to ride my bike to buy a wax carton of milk today.
What plastic thing will you say no to today?
Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning journalist, author, and blogger. She is the author of "Veronika Layne Gets the Scoop" and "Veronika Layne Has a Nose for News" (rep'd by Booktrope). She is the Poet Laureate of Alameda, California. She's also the conservatrix of The Doris Diaries, the diaries of her great-aunt Doris Bailey Murphy. Her articles have appeared in Thrillist, Quill, Paste, San Francisco Chronicle, and in many magazines; her latest poetry appears in The East Bay Literary review.