Before even sitting down for breakfast today, I had touched at least ten pieces of plastic.
My shampoo and conditioner bottles are both made of plastic; I squeezed out some toothpaste from a plastic Crest tube; I pumped some lotion into my hands from a giant container of Eucerin, and you guessed it, that was plastic.
In the past few weeks and months, I’ve started to notice how populated my apartment is with this seemingly harmless, even ingenious material. It’s not just in the bathroom (where even my plastic deodorant lives beside my plastic Sonicare toothbrush, where my plastic pink cylinder of mascara stands next to an amber-colored bottle of medication that is, yes, also plastic)–it’s in the kitchen, too.
Every block of cheese in my fridge is packed in a thin seal of the stuff. My bottle of yogurt stands proud in its plastic shell. My deli-sliced turkey is airtight in its plastic bag. This is just in the refrigerator. Think about the nested take-out containers, the food storage lids, the plastic baggies, all hidden in shelves. There are the caps to my spices and the knobs on my stove. There’s the head of the spatula and the handle of the whisk. It boggles the mind when you start to consider that our world runs on plastic. It houses most of the products we use to make ourselves beautiful. It turns on our switches and keeps our food fresh. It manages all of its jobs remarkably well. But a little too well, it turns out.
Plastic doesn’t really go away.
About ten years ago, I first heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I remember hearing the term and then immediately doing a Google search. The images I saw were disorienting. How could I have not heard about something that, at the time, was estimated to be about the size of Texas floating in our world’s largest ocean?
I saw clear plastic bags drifting in the midst of schools of yellow fish. I saw bottle caps lodged in the stomachs of dead, decomposing seabirds. The pictures more than startled me–they obsessed me. So I started to research this “patch,” and I quickly learned that most of the garbage floating out there and sinking to the depths is made of plastic that does not decompose. It breaks into smaller and smaller particles, but this inorganic material is infiltrating the ocean food chain. It’s not just unsightly; it’s toxic.
In classes that I teach on writing research papers, I show my students pictures of the Pacific Garbage Patch, and tell them a little about its genesis. It’s always surprising to me to see how few hands go up in the air when I ask if they’ve heard about this garbage patch. The number of hands has been increasing year by year, but still many of my students, like me a decade ago, have no idea how clogged our oceans and seas and lakes are becoming with trash, especially of the plastic variety.
So, this experiment, and this blog that will follow it, has been brewing in my mind for several years. Finally in April of this year, I’ve decided to try and put my “money” where my mouth is, and give up as much plastic as I can for a full year. I know it’s going to be hard. I know I’m going to encounter plastic when I least expect it, because I already do. But for 365 days, I’m going to see just how much I’m able to replace plastics with materials that are more Earth-friendly, including plastic that can be recycled, attempting to break my crazy addiction to this stuff.
My official journey will begin this Wednesday, April 22nd in honor of Earth Day. I hope you’ll join me this year to see how well I succeed at “dumping plastic.”