This week started with a delivery of my “cheese of the month club” package, signaling that a full month has passed since the start of my plastic challenge. From this delivery, I added three delicious blocks of cheese to my refrigerator. I also added a large cube of Styrofoam to my plastic collection.
It’s honestly a little astonishing to look at my plastic horde up until this point. I’ve almost completely filled my storage container in one month, and it’s about to grow significantly as I’ve come to the end of several products that come in plastic containers: an enormous bottle of lotion, my Cetaphil face wash, a bottle of Dawn. (My next stage in this adventure is finding suitable replacements for these items.)
I’ve learned this month that it’s not only as hard as I initially feared to avoid plastic, even for a single day; it’s also exhausting and sometimes lunatic.
Whenever I leave the house, I’m trying to remember my red reusable bag, my traveling coffee mug, my collapsible leftover food container. Often, I forget one of these items, and then I’m left with a choice: do I say “no” to something that comes in plastic, or do I just accumulate more?
I’ve gone to several functions the past month—a work event with appetizers and drinks, a couple of barbeques, a bar party—and I’ve had to make a choice: do I have that glass of wine or plate of food and accept the use of plastic? I have. Mainly because I have really wanted that glass of wine or that plate of fried ravioli, but also because it would look a little strange to not partake. I don’t feel like explaining my weird experiment to work acquaintances, nor do I want to make anyone around me feel bad for using plastic. We all use it.
So, I’ve started developing some rather strange behaviors: I’ve found myself stuffing empty plastic cups and plates into my purse (hoping no one notices) to keep to my promise of saving all the plastic I use, and yesterday at work, I ate a piece of cheesecake with my fingers to avoid using a plastic fork. In rapidly chowing down the piece of dessert, I was reminded of a line from a David Sedaris essay where he was caught as a boy stuffing extreme amounts of Halloween candy into his mouth. His mom, upon finding him, said to him, “You should look at yourself…I mean, really look at yourself.”
I felt, scarfing the cheesecake with sticky fingers, that I needed a good look at myself. Is this plastic challenge turning me weird? Honestly—yes, a little bit.
Plastic is the standby in our culture. It’s our “norm.” Trying not to use plastic not only makes me slightly eccentric, it makes me far divergent from the standard. Our society depends on items we can use once and throw away. I’ve heard the term “throw away culture,” but I didn’t embrace the truth of this description until starting this challenge.
It seems that concurrently, as we’ve grown to be a society that wants constant access to technology, speed in transactions, and shortcuts in time and travel, we’ve also turned to plastic, the cheapest, lightest, quickest material of them all. Our society asks for immediacy and convenience. We don’t want to make return trips anymore to refill the same glass milk carton. We don’t want to be weighed down by carting along lots of packaging for the things we consume. As I’m discovering, it truly is a bother.
I’m already trying to fight the inertia I feel about this experiment. I’m getting tired of feeling like a pack horse, I’m tired of going against the cultural grain. I’m starting to feel like a broken record when I ask for deli items in “just paper,” and most of all, I’m feeling unwilling to give up some social pleasures where plastic is concerned. And I don’t want to turn into a complete weirdo.
I hope that in the month ahead, simply in forming these no-plastic habits, my challenge starts to feel less like a burden, and I hope it gets easier to accept the eccentricities of sticking to it.
Also, I hope I can start to slow the rapid growth of plastic in my storage bin.