I am sitting at an endless table. The table stretches on and on in a long, long room. There are others across from me, others to either side of me.
I don’t care who else is there. I am waiting for Max the Manufacturer.
There is a low grumble of anticipation; the others are waiting, too.
I tap my fingers on the table, and I gasp. My fingers are FURRY! Muppet furry! I pat my face: there’s a broad flat mouth! My hair is crazy! (Well, that and the glasses: those are normal, anyway.)
A chant begins. I join in,—join in emulating my heroes, Animal and Oscar and Cookie Monster:
Me want food! Me want food! ME WANT FOOD!
We pound, too, and the noise crescendos, and then….then the big double doors swing open. Our chanting turns to cheers.
It is Max! Max the Manufacturer!
Max has food for us.
He rapidly wheels a deep cart, filled with packages. At each Muppet’s place, he tosses a container onto the table.
I pick mine up. It is meat!
It is luncheon meat that is wrapped in plastic, and then encased in a lidded plastic container, which is sealed with…more plastic!
I join the chorus, which is now singing, “Me love MEAT! Meat good enough for me!”
And I tear at the container.
I rip off the plastic seal and throw it behind me.
“Raaaaah!” I roar.
I open the plastic top, and I throw that behind me. Now I begin to pant and salivate.The inner plastic is tough. I use my Muppet teeth to tear it apart, and I give a victorious, guttural crow. I toss the juicy inner plastic away, and I take the pile of meat slices and I shove them into my mouth.
“Num!” I blart, mouth full. “Num! Num! Num!”
My furry hands sweep the remaining plastic behind me, and I wonder what Max will bring me next.
Maybe some miniature Oreos in individual-sized plastic serving containers.
Maybe he’ll bring me two, or three. Me HUNGRY!!!
The pounding begins again, and I push my chair out a little to get more room.
But the pile of plastic behind me is so deep and so tall I can barely budge.
I have become, I realize, Consumer Monster.
I was driving to northwestern Ohio and listening to NPR when I heard the story about the sea turtle with the plastic drinking straw stuck in its nostril. It picked up that straw, minding its own business, swimming in the ocean—swimming through plastic waste blithely ejected by humans.
The creature had to be hauled into a medical facility to have surgery; someone took a video of the procedure, which was, the commentator said, pretty gruesome to watch and to listen to.
An expert chipped in with a discussion of how plastic straws alone pollute our beaches and oceans. Pounds and pounds, TONS, of plastic straws go into the trash, get processed, wind up, somehow, in the ocean.
If one sea turtle was discovered, dying, from humans’ plastic waste, how many more creatures suffer and die without notice?
The next day I met my friend Terri for coffee at a funky little college town coffee shop. There, by the register, was a cupful of stainless-steel straws. I bought three to take home.
My Comp II students write a proposal to solve a national or international problem as their capstone project. Last semester, five of the 24 papers dealt with the floating plastic dumps in our oceans. The students had done their research; their definition of the problem was stark, grotesque, unavoidable.
They proposed some interesting solutions too (things like what’s going at 4oceans.com), but I was just staggered by the magnitude of what we have, unthinkingly, done.
I tore the plastic from a package of paper napkins and trotted over to the cabinet where I keep the kitchen trash. The wrapper was printed in bright blue ink, and I thought, idly, that if I knew how to make flowers from plastic wrapping, this would make a pretty, deep blue rose. I opened the louvered doors and shoved the wrapper into the trash can, which was lined with a white plastic garbage bag….and filled with plastic waste.
And since then, I can’t help continually noticing. My God, it’s everywhere, woven firmly into the lives we lead. The things we buy to prepare and eat. The wraps I keep in the cupboard—plastic wrap and baggies and quart and gallon storage bags—things I may wash out after one use and then re-use a time or two, but things that eventually wind up in my trash.
I have no idea where they end up after that.
So I’ve been thinking about the poor sick turtle and the floating acres of plastic and the plastic in my household. Why don’t manufacturers DO something? I wonder. Why don’t they stop using plastic in every damn thing?
I think that, and then I go out and buy what they’re offering.
And I applaud the heroic efforts that some people are making to contain, control, and eliminate the plastic dumped into our seas and landfills. But I’m wondering, too, if a first step wouldn’t be not to add to it. Some are busy cleaning up the mess, but I keep making more.
Maybe a beginning would be not to contribute any more plastic to an already rife and burdensome mess.
Maybe I need to see if I can live without plastic.
I mention that to my son and he says, Hey! You could do that for Lent! Go without plastic instead of giving up candy or something.
He’s brilliant. A commitment–heck, a crusade–is born.
I get on line to do some research. I find that there’s a whole zero-waste movement out there—that there are people who throw out only tiny amounts—enough trash to fill a small mason jar, for instance,–every three months or so. I discover that there are environmentally friendly products and methods to explore. There are discussions about biodegradable, organically-based plastics. I find out a very dear friend has a son whose family tries very hard not to consume single-use plastic.
And I start making plans.
I order paper baggies and plant-based plastic garbage bags, guaranteed to decompose in landfills. I am excited when they arrive…until I see that they have been packed with those little plastic air pillows. I sigh, and I pierce the pillows, flattening them, and I put them with the plastic bags to be recycled.
There are a couple of meat counters, locally, that wrap their meat in waxed paper and butcher paper. Maybe I can buy chunk cheese at those counters, too. I talk to a clerk at Kroger about bringing my own paper bags to package and buy bulk items.
“Why not?” she says. “It’s fine.“
I take an un-bagged cabbage to the self-check out and bring it home without wrapping it in plastic.
We think creatively. Jim has acquired a real hankering for cranberry lemonade, a product from Ocean Spray…which comes, of course, in a sturdy plastic bottle. But we can buy frozen cranberry juice concentrate and frozen lemonade too; their containers are paper, mostly, with metal end caps.
We polish off two plastic bottles of juice and save the sanitized bottles. The next shopping trip, I buy the concentrate. I pull down the giant bowl, glump in the frozen base and add water. I stir up our own cran-lemon mix, and scoop it into clean bottles. Mark and Jim try it at lunch, and they are surprised.
“This is really GOOD,” Mark says, and I think Score! Mixing my own is a good deal cheaper than buying bottled….which is, of course, not true of all non-plastic packaged goods. We’ll take our victories, and our economies, where we can find them.
We can refill our olive oil bottles at an organic foods store not far away. I think about using powdered cleansers instead of sprays in plastic bottles, about using brillo pads instead of plastic scrubbies, and about grating my own cole slaw instead of buying bagged mix.
I start to believe maybe this is doable, living life without single-use plastic, and then I run into things like my fully plastic deodorant dispenser.
Huh. Deodorant is kind of non-negotiable. What viable alternatives are out there?
But we are forging ahead…or I am, anyway, to the support and sometimes dismay of the boyos. Lent starts this Wednesday, March 6. For the six weeks that follow, I am going to see if I can live without plastic packaging. And I’ll see how life changes, and I’ll see what I do, and what I don’t, really, truly need.
And of course, I’m going to have to write about it.
So I’m adding a weekly plastic-post to my blog. I think I’ll call it ‘Wednesdays Without Plastic.’ I’ll document stuff like my upcoming attempt to make my own liquid dish detergent and my quest for freshly ground decaf in paper packaging. I’m hoping to talk to local folks who live without single-use plastic packaging, and I’ll be exploring some websites and blogs from people who do their best to contribute NO waste to our ailing environment.
I understand if this discussion is not your cup of tea, so I’m warning you ahead of time, and then you can ignore those Wednesday ramblings.
I’m hoping to transform from a Consumer Monster to a Zero Waste Zelda.
And I suspect there will be surprises along the way.