I was running low on things to worry about when The New York Times came through with a string of articles about the perils of plastic.
The first informed me that the bottles, bags and jars we put into recycling bins because they’re labeled recyclable might not be recycled after all. Many end up in landfills. Or incinerators. A growing number of municipalities, it seems, have given up on recycling because it’s gotten too expensive. Not to worry, though. Some cities assure residents incineration is a green alternative because it produces energy. Businesses also like to give the impression they’re green by peppering their properties with recycling bins, whether the contents get recycled or not. Take the Memphis International Airport. The city’s recycling contractor no longer serves the airport, yet recycling bins are scattered about, airport spokesman Glen Thomas told the Times, to preserve the “culture” of recycling.
As if news of bogus recycling bins weren’t enough to make me swear off plastic for life, the next two articles were. One said the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is twice the size of Texas and growing exponentially. And it’s only one of five garbage patches in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans. Yet another Times article told of a whale that washed up in Sicily with 48 pounds of plastic in its gut. Whales that died from ingesting plastic also washed up last year in Indonesia, Thailand and Spain.
With the death toll in mind, I decided it was time I did my part. I already used my own shopping bags, reused zipper-lock bags and carried water in a glass sports bottle. But I knew I could do more.
I was surprised to learn from a co-worker that liquid detergent is available in cardboard cartons. I did a Google search for information about prices and brands. Instead I found news of a public outcry over the box design. Critics warned that people would die from mistaking Tide for boxed wine. I’m no wine connoisseur, but I think I can distinguish the taste of wine from soap. Then again, I haven’t tasted much wine from a box.
The New York Times was one institution I knew would understand my concern over plastic waste. The Times appears at my door every Sunday wrapped in two plastic bags. I asked if the carrier could skip the bags on dry mornings. The Times rep said he’d relay my request, but couldn’t guarantee my carrier would comply. The paper still comes double bagged.
I did manage to make some changes some changes that made me feel darn righteous. At a bulk-food store, I filled my own Mason jars with French lentils and raw almonds. I used my own mesh bags to bag tomatoes and apples at the produce stand. The jars and mesh bags all went into my reusable shopping bag. No plastic. No waste.
Then I made the mistake of looking inside the produce stand’s freezer. It was filled with frozen fruit bars. Each was wrapped in plastic and had a plastic stick. I forgot all about the garbage patch. I forgot about the whales. When I spotted a coconut bar, I sold out – just like Memphis International and The New York Times.
I still like to think there will come a day when whales won’t die ingesting plastic. We’d better get to work training the whales.