I’m a prisoner to plastic. It’s hard to admit. My brain is plastered with multiple social media images of “plastic soup.” It lingers there like Muzak—constantly in the background but without my paying it much attention. But recently, the time came to examine my own complicity in the plastic assault on Mother Earth.
And assault, it is. According to a June 28, 2017 article about the world’s plastic binge in the Guardian, 1 million plastic bottles are bought every minute, equivalent to about 20,000 bottles per second. More than 480 billion plastic drinking bottles were sold in 2016 across the world, which, if placed end-to-end, would reach halfway to the sun. The article notes that by 2021, the figure will rise to 583.3 billion.
Research published in 2015 estimates 8 million metric tons of plastic ends up in oceans every year. That is the equivalent of five grocery bags of plastic trash for every foot of coastline around the world.
DECISION TO ASSESS MY PLASTIC USE
June 5 is World Environment Day. “Beat plastic pollution” is the theme. In keeping with this important day, last Saturday, a group of five UN NGOs, including Sr. Catherine Prendergast and myself, offered a webinar on environmental issues. If we were to speak of plastic, it struck me, a personal inventory of plastic use was in order. Thus, a decision was made to spend a day assessing my use of plastic and attempting to go without it.
Needless to say, the permeation of plastic in my life was petrifying.
NUMB TO THE MESSAGE
It’s not like I haven’t had exposure to the consequences of plastic waste. Tutoring a student awoke me in the mid-2000s to the billions of plastic bottles produced and discarded, as well as to the Great Pacific Gyre. It was moving to witness a whale dying from plastic bag ingestion in Avarua Harbor in Rarotonga. And then there was the sobering statistic issued by former UN General Assembly President, Peter Thomson, issued during last year’s Oceans Conference at the UN in New York—the equivalent of a garbage truck is dumped into the ocean each minute!
But I had become a bit numb to the message and needed to wake up!
WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY—JUNE 5
World Environment Day take places on June 5 annually. It began in 1974. Above all, World Environment Day is the “people’s day” for doing something to take care of Earth. That “something” can be focused locally, nationally or globally; it can be a solo action or involve a crowd. The theme for 2018 is beating plastic pollution.
PLASTIC IN THE MORNING…
I stared plastic in the face upon waking. It started with tooth care. Plastic toothbrush and a plastic cover to the toothpaste tube. Hmm…. I made a note to use the bamboo brush received in Korea. The ABC vitamins I take in the morning all were contained in plastic. Fortunately, a bar of soap was handy for face washing.
From there, my hair needed attention. A quick realization that combs and brushes are typically plastic! So, I used my fingers to comb it down and skin cream to tame the rooster tail. Thank God for short hair!
It was cleaning day and a plastic bag—with trash—stared at me from the wastebasket in the corner of my room. Mental note–nix the plastic bags. I know better!
PLASTIC AT BREAKFAST…
Breakfast was consumed with plastic encounters. Oatmeal seemed the best choice but the cardboard box is sealed with a plastic lid. The blueberries or raisins I’d put on it also were surrounded by plastic. Further, our milk is sold in plastic containers. Toast was out as it is protected by a plastic bag. This might have been a good morning for an egg, but even they come in Styrofoam containers. So, I resorted to an omelet made from egg substitutes in a cardboard container. And a banana was eaten, guilt-free.
PLASTIC IN MY WORKDAY…
Off to the bus with a backpack, I pulled out my MTA card. Yes, it is plastic! And yes, I had to use it in order to get to my ministry. Once aboard the bus and eventually a packed subway train, I realized that the Sudoku and crossword puzzle which entertain me each morning would usually be completed with a plastic pen. It became a napping commute.
We’re pleased our office provides coffee. But it is brewed from annoying little plastic packets that jam landfills, so I decided to stop and buy one, anticipating a plastic-free coffee cup. A local shop serves coffee from an urn and provides recyclable cups. However, halfway to the office, I awoke to the plastic lid. Yikes!
Upon my arrival at the office, out came the ID which enables me to get through Security. Plastic, of course.
Jumped into my morning agenda and was typing away when it hit me like a bolt of lightning–I was keyboarding on a plastic laptop! And the phone with which I checked email was also plastic, as was its cover.
PLASTIC AT LUNCHTIME…
It was a relief to attend meetings, during which I avoided plastic pens and plastic laptop by using a pencil instead. All good. Snacks were served afterwards. I averted the ones served in plastic. On to another meeting at which lunch was to be served. Inspection revealed it was arranged on plastic trays. Covers were either cellophane or plastic.
So, down the street I went for lunch, to a shop with biodegradable containers. Seated with my pasta- veggie combo, I was hit by a dilemma. Had not brought a fork from home. Eating with my fingers was not an option. (It is part of many cultures, but not that of Mid-town Manhattan). Would that I could be like my friend Teresa, who carries her own reusable utensils every day. Admittedly, I used a plastic fork.
With a half a day already gone, my encounters with plastic were rife.
Other than computer and phone use, afternoon meetings were pretty benign. Back to the MTA with my plastic card! En route home, I picked up some French bread, which fortunately comes in a paper bag. The clerk sometimes wants to provide a plastic bag for carrying purposes, but I declined.
PLASTIC IN THE EVENING…
Arriving home, I decided to relax with a diet soda (yes, I know they’re bad for me…). Just as I was sipping, a sister pointed out that they come with plastic lining!! A new awareness!
I usually return cans and plastic bottles to the recycling stations at local grocery stores. Most of what I recycle are cans. But many arrive with grocery carts full of plastic bottles. It’s great that they’re being recycled, but the question arises as to what’s happening to these mountains of plastic bottles.
A plethora of plastic is used for food packaging. So I approached dinner without great plastic-free expectations. Salad fixings come in plastic containers. Salad dressing in plastic bottles. Rice in plastic bags. Meat in plastic and sometimes Styrofoam. Ketchup in plastic. Fruit and frozen vegetables often are sold in plastic. I did the best I could.
After our meal, there were leftovers, which wound up in plastic containers, although they are not single-use and seem to last a long while. Some leftovers did have a cling-wrap cover.
The rest of the evening was fairly plastic stress-free, except that the TV and the remote are plastic and I watered flowers in plastic pots.
PLASTIC AT NIGHTTIME…
A nightly routine can be taxing as one ages. Being plastic sensitive didn’t make it any more fun! My mouth guard is stored in a plastic container. Skin cream—plastic dispenser. Favorite shower gel—microbeads. Shampoo, the same. Bunion gear—plastic! Ugh!
You get the picture. The cumulative effect of the day is a resolve to take some steps to become less plastic dependent. And to strive to become more Laudato Si-like in my relationship to Earth.
LET’S ALL TAKE ONE ACTION TO REDUCE PLASTIC ON WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY.
Thanks, Margaret. We all need to try to reduce our use of plastic.
Good article, I certainly have not taken stock of all the encounters and use of plastics in my daily life. “Re-use and re-cycle” seems to the logical first step as a practice response in the average household. Hopefully, that will lead to a significant Re-duce in the not too distant future.
Thanks, Margaret. I found it very interesting. I think we need to begin with what is possible. In the immediate, we cannot do anything about the plastic in televisions and computers, but we certainly can eliminate plastic bags, bottles, tableware, and other single use plastics. We also can begin to look for alternatives to food and other items that come in plastic packaging. It may seem like a losing battle, but it is one worth fighting for the life of our planet.