The businessman advises The Graduate: “I want to say one word to you. Just one word: Plastics.” We have taken that one word to heart. You don’t have to look far to realize that “plastic” has spawned industries, inventions and unfortunately mounds of trash. Plastics, derived from petroleum or natural gas, have transformed our world and not always in good ways. Vehicles, aircraft, appliances, computers and other durable goods use plastics for durability, weight reduction, or corrosion resistance. A medical facility could hardly function without plastics, ranging from sterile wrappings to syringes to fabricated body parts.
All plastics are not created equal. And unfortunately, plastic has a long half-life. Most plastics stick around, which is good in a hip socket, but not so good when a tattered bag is snagged in a tree. An area of the ocean between California and Hawaii has become known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a disgusting looking soup of bags, bottles and other floaties. It’s been forming over time, with studies estimating that it consists of at least 79,000 tons of plastic covering an area three times the size of France.
You might think, “So what?” It’s in the middle of the ocean and no one is going to accidentally wander into the muck. However, the debris kills sea creatures and disintegrates into particles that are eaten by fish. If you eat fish, you may consume plastic with unknown effects on health.
This sea horse photo (Credit: Justin Hofman, 2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year) is emblematic of the problem. Cotton swabs with plastic stems are going to be around for a long time–a souvenir of the plastic age.
I used to have discussions with clerks about not getting a bag for a purchase or using my own. Apparently using store bags helped deter theft. Really? That trend has now shifted so that retailers encourage bringing bags and sometimes even charge for bags. On a recent flight, I tried to use my own cup for water. The flight attendant insisted that she could not use my cup. Really? She also wouldn’t give me the can (cans are collected separately, so I assume they are recycled). Rather than accept a cup that I would use and then discard, I chose not to have a drink.
Why bother? I get it—you’re busy and have no time. Is there just one thing you can do? Perhaps bring your own bag or cup. Request no straw. Leave the soy sauce packet at the restaurant. Don’t argue with flight attendants but send a message to the airline. Little things add up.
© Joan S Grey, 21 JUN 2018
IndexCardCure™: Be aware