the Ayatollah of plastic
Do you think I’m judging you? By the looks on people’s faces these days, they do. Since I started the Plastic Purge, just about everyone who talks to me says, “Well, it was plastic, but…” or, “You would have hated it, there was so much plastic…” and, “I know it’s plastic, but…”. There are the more aggressive folks who kind of snarl at me, “Is that plastic? Are you drinking out of a plastic cup? Is your Bandaid plastic?”
It’s kind of funny. I suppose I’m making them think about their own choices, and that might make them a little uncomfortable. I’m not really the Ayatollah of plastic, though. I’m just a poor slob dragging along and trying to make plastic-free choices. If I were the Ayatollah of plastic, I’d start chopping off fingers for every infraction. You’d have 10 chances to mend your ways, and then you’d pretty much be hosed and have to live in my Plastic-Free World, under my rules. On your knees, heathens!
I’d much rather be the Green Queen (as opposed to the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland). I wouldn’t say “Off with her head.” (Much.) I’ll say, “Off with your plastic!” and trade you a real silver fork for your plastic one, offer you a waxed paper bag for your sandwich, a ceramic mug for your beverage, a reusable canvas bag for your vegetables, and perhaps some wooden chopsticks or hair ornaments instead of plastic ones. Then we’d scamper naked with whales and butterflies and eat homemade tofu together happily under Mother Redwood Tree while fairies sang.
So back to reality. I spent some time Friday shopping for some necessary household items, and took a turn around the local mall just to see what kind of plastics were for sale, and what alternatives. In the clothing department store (Kohl’s), all that clothing has the stupid little piece of plastic with price tag, and their bags are plastic. I recommend that you take your own large bags when clothes shopping, and try to recycle those little plastic scraps in your weekly bin. The cosmetics counter is redolent with perfume and with plastic — hard to escape the cases and compacts. I was able to purchase a pretty, vintage compact the other day at Thrift Town for about $3, and that is refillable with powder. I notice that if you spend more, you can often avoid plastic — true in cosmetics as well as in food. Glass bottles of perfume and boxes of talcum powder are two pricey examples.
Bed, Bath & Beyond had many plastic and silicone choices for use in the kitchen. I don’t own any silicone products, and frankly am skeptical as to its safety with food use. We thought plastics and non-stick pans were fine until recently, when their toxicity was reported. So I plan to continue avoiding silicone bakeware for the foreseeable future. Call me suspicious, but I just don’t trust manmade materials, based on past performance (silicone breast implants, anyone?) However, there were many bamboo implements, cutting boards and practical items like towel bars. Bamboo is very sustainable since it regrows so quickly. Lots of glass and plain metal pots and pans, tools and gadgets, too. I also saw the eco-non-stick pans, but I think I’ll just leave these be for now.
Alameda Beauty Center has a very nice selection of sustainable and vegan hairbrushes and combs (vegan means no boar bristles). There is also a nice variety of Burt’s Bees cosmetics and soaps. Surprise! Burt’s Bees makes a spray deodorant in an aluminum bottle. It has a recyclable plastic cap and inner tube, but this is the first packaging I’ve seen that is not entirely plastic. I (heart) Burt’s Bees. We have often purchased large bottles of shampoo from the beauty supply store, because we figure that one large bottle is the same as three individual bottles, and less packaging is better than more. I don’t have a way to actually measure this belief — it would be a complicated algebraic formula.
“If gasoline costs X and the shampoo is shipped from State Y to State Z, and if the plastic is made in State F and shipped to State G for packaging, and if the shampoo is made from baby squirrels which are not endangered but the exhaust from the shipping kills X many squirrels on the road, then buying one large bottle of shampoo at Store Q is/is not a better eco choice.” (falls down in mathematical coma…)
If anyone can actually work out a formula like this so that we all have a simple rubric at hand, with a tap on the screen of our favorite pocket devices, please let me know. Is there an app for that? Until then, I’m going to continue to try and avoid plastic, excessive driving, imported items in general, and toxic substances.
By the way, Alameda Beauty Center has a nice punch card and takes off $5 when your card is full. I take my own bag because they offer plastic bags. As far as the mall, it’s also nice to note that See’s Candy is almost next door (at our mall), offers delicious free samples, packages mostly in paper and foil, and adds sunshine to my day. Plastic-free chocolate…mmm.
My last stop was at Beverly’s, where I fondled the yarns and stroked the fabrics and flipped through crafty books. Lots of plastic here, for sure — but also many paper-wrapped or unwrapped items, if you want to get your craft on. The bead aisle, scrapbooking and the fake floral departments scare me, with whatever mountains of plastic-making fumes spewed into whatever Third World country in order for us to make necklaces, memory books and floral centerpieces for our hapless friends and families. (This is as good a time as any to mention “The Story of Stuff,” a 20-minute short film by Berkeley gal Annie Leonard, which shows you the consequences of our cheap stuff and where it comes from and where it goes after we’re done. It’s online and it’s free. Be brave and watch it, and then tell me if it doesn’t affect what you plan to buy next.)
I didn’t go into Radio Shack, Anna’s Linens, Old Navy or Big 5 Sporting Goods — I was already exhausted from touching and looking and the smell of all that new stuff was actually beginning to nauseate me (really). But I imagine those stores, as in any store in any mall in America and beyond, that there is plastic aplenty, and that you can easily take your own bag, and that if you choose to avoid buying plastic, you probably can.
Caveat emptor, as always.
Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning journalist, author, and blogger. She is the author of six books: three novels, one poetry collection, and two women's history. She was the Poet Laureate of Alameda, California, in 2014-17. She's also the conservatrix of The Doris Diaries, the diaries of her great-aunt Doris Bailey Murphy. She has a BA in journalism from San Francisco State University, and MA in Early 20th C. British Literature from Cal State Hayward. Julia's articles have appeared on Salon, Thrillist, Paste, Scary Mommy, Narratively, Yahoo News, Your Tango, and Sweatpants & Coffee. Her articles have also run in Redbook, Woman's Day, Country Living, House Beautiful, Town & Country, the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Magazine, Quill, and MadeLocal. She was the founding editor of weekly Alameda Sun and literary zine Red Hills Review. Her poetry has been in The East Bay Literary review, Postcard Poems, Americus Review, Cicada, Tiferet Review, and many others. Julia has been recognized several times by the San Francisco, East Bay and Peninsula Press Clubs as well as the California Newspaper Association for her blogging since 2003.