My great divorce is nearly impossible, but I am proceeding as steadfastly as possible to separate myself, my finances, my lifestyle and my future from PLASTIC. Though I don’t know how I’ll get from here to there, I am aiming toward zero-waste.
Plastic is one of the prime pollutants on the planet. It is breaking down into microfibers and nano-dots that float in our bloodstream, infiltrate the cells of our bodies, and cause documented health issues, disease, and death. Plastic is killing sea creatures and other animals who ingest it. The swirling gyres are now as big as some American states and current predictions state there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. Great. Does that mean instead of ancestors crossing the land-bridge from Siberia to North America, our descendants can walk back to Siberia on plastic? Go online and search a bit—the photos, documentation, and suggestions for activism are everywhere.
My divorce begins locally at the grocery store:
No more plastic water bottles: I drink out of stainless steel or glass; bring my own mug to a coffee shop. (I have a rule—if I haven’t come prepared, I don’t get coffee…I wait until next time.)
Refuse plastic bags: I bring cloth bags, mesh bags for veggies and mushrooms, buy meat at the butcher counter instead of pre-wrapped and ask for butcher paper. Same with bakery items.
On a recent visit to our local grocery store I went to see the store manager whose office is above the backroom warehouse with a big plate glass window where he can oversee the aisles and aisles of goods he is responsible for. “I’m here to talk with you about plastic,” I said. We peered together over his domain. “There are aisles I don’t even go down. There are products I’m not buying anymore. I will not purchase from your bakery section, from the deli section, unless there is a paper alternative to plastic bags and clamshell containers. I take photos of products I have previously enjoyed and have now stopped purchasing and when I get home I write these companies and tell them good-bye until they change their packaging.”
“Great,” he said. “I know the destruction we’re causing. I see the photos of the ocean gyres. As we remodel and put in more bulk items we’re changing the bags to bioplastic… I need consumer help to pressure our suppliers and companies, so go for it.”
“Bioplastic helps,” I said, “and so does paper… and even more so to give people credit for bringing in their own recyclable containers and figuring out how to let people be more responsible when I know you’ve got all these health department restrictions.”
“I agree,” he said.
“We’ve got to get the story out,” (of course that’s what I said!), “wake people out of the trance of quick convenience that shopping often entails.”
In America, the average citizen uses 12 plastic bags/packaging a day. In Denmark the average citizen uses 4 plastic bags a year. This is because of how products are packaged and served. In the years Ann and I traveled for European work we saw alternative models working beautifully. For example, in the Copenhagen airport, when you order a meal (having staggered off that over-the-ocean flight looking down on the melting edge of Greenland) you are served on chinaware with metal cutlery. Tables to sit or stand at are placed all around the food court area. You eat, you leave your tray. A service worker comes by with a cart, takes food to be composted and service to be washed and reused—unlike the roaming garbage carts of American airports and malls.
I tell this story over and over again, especially while talking with strangers at the grocery store, engaging in friendly peer education. I have purchased my own supply of 100 small brown paper bags and 100 waxed paper sandwich baggies, so I have enough to use in the bulk aisles and enough to share with the next interested person. Spreading the word and the alternative.
My next step is to start placing post-it notes around places where I shop.
It cost me $13.83 for 100 of these. I can afford that. And doing something directly feels more empowered than signing Internet petitions. The little notes don’t hurt anything. I expect them to disappear. I hope my community will get into the spirit of many tiny actions equaling some kind of impact. And I appreciate that my local store manager is thinking about similar things, that we can be in dialogue and take action together.
Angeles Arrien said, “to heal a situation we must be able to speak about it.” I’m talking about plastic. I’m talking about the dilemma we find ourselves in. I’m refusing to buy plastic toys or gifts these coming holidays. I’m encouraging folks around me to take the issue seriously and practice it lightly–waking each other up. And I’m adding, “to change a situation we must be able to imagine the alternative.”
I’m imagining… What are you imagining? We can do this.