Yesterday I took the afternoon off of work (comp time for a long day in Chelmsford last week), and went to a nearby GIANT antiques barn with a friend. Skipping over the part about the two great table cloths, and the juice glasses and the yellow fire king bowl I found, and the gorgeous bowl set I saw on the way out at closing time and NEED to go back and get today, I want to tell you about the two boxes of paper straws we saw. Yes, you heard that right. Straws used to be made out of paper.
I have lately--over the last year or so--been trying to wean my family off of plastic. I did fairly well in this area in college and my early childless years, but somehow, having kids created in my some kind of environmental amnesia and I started buying them plastic toys! I woke from this daze when M was about two and realized, to my horror, that my life was filled with plastic crap--plates, cups, silverware, toys inside, toys outside. The madness had to stop! I started out by not buying him more stuff, period, unless it was his birthday or Christmas, and trying to find wooden or fabric non-made-in-China stuff. This helped for awhile, until he started getting his own money and begging for regular trips to Reny's to blow his wad on Hotwheels and Matchbox sets. And suddenly, once again, I found myself mired in plastic!
It's not that plastic is offensive to my aesthetic sensibilities (although it is), it's that plastic NEVER EVER goes away--instead of bio-degrading, in which bacteria and fungi break a product down into its chemical components, plastic photo-degrades; UV light breaks it down into smaller and smaller pieces, but those pieces are still essentially plastic (the polymer chains remain intact). As those pieces break down, they are taken up by animals--you've heard of turtles swallowing bags they think are jellyfish, and the great albatrosses whose carcasses are full of plastic bits--but even the tiniest sea creatures, the zooplankton, take in microscopic bits of plastic, and because the plankton is the foundation of the oceanic food chain, these plastics work their way into the bodies of everything that depends on the sea (which is pretty much everything). To make matters worse, persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic chemicals (e.g. PCBs) are attracted to plastics and bond to them, riding with them into the food chain. Bad news all around.
So, whether my own contribution really makes a difference one way or the other, I consider it unconscionable to NOT try to reduce my own use and disposal of plastics. Which means no more plastic toys. Only all-natural fabrics for clothing and home use, preferably used, or if new, then organic and sweat-shop free. Buying the majority of our foods locally and in bulk, and growing and making as much as we can to avoid cartons, bags, wrappers, packages, etc. Still...our little (plastic) under-sink trash can fills up with plastic food packaging every week...and that's discouraging. Which brings us back to the antique store and the straws. Straws used to be made out of paper, people! And remember crackers came in paper sleeves inside cardboard boxes? Milk cartons were waxed paper, with no plastic pouring spout. Toys came in cardboard boxes, not clamshells. The produce section had little paper bags with fold-up handles. This was just in my memory--go back 10, 20, 30, 50 years earlier and watch plastics fade from usage altogether.
I don't deny that plastic is useful (e.g. this dad-blasted typing machine I'm using right now), but if we could limit it to those uses that don't have an alternative--electronic media (although using paper or cardboard cases for DVDs and CDs), computers, medical equipment, safety items (carseats, life jackets, bike helmets); and eliminate it from all of the discretionary, one-use-and-then-throw-it-away uses (grocery bags, shrink wrap, those freakin' vinyl covers that my organic mattress pads came in and which I swear I will send back to the company with a letter any day now)...then I think the turtles and albatrosses and zooplankton will have a bit more of a fighting chance, don't you?
If you want to read more about plastic, and getting rid of it, boogy on over to Fake Plastic Fish (and bookmark her blog...you'll be happy you do!) and check out this week's Green Mom's Carnival of bloggers writing about--and trying to get away from--plastic. And suggestions for deplastifying are most welcome!