Disposing Disposables
May 14, 2012, 9:49 PM
Filed under: Reducing Waste | Tags:

Look carefully at this picture. Can you even see the boat? A ‘plastic soup’ of waste floating in the Pacific Ocean is growing at an alarming rate and now covers an area twice the size of the continental United States, scientists have said.  The vast expanse of debris – in effect the world’s largest rubbish dump – is held in place by swirling underwater currents. This drifting ‘soup’ stretches from about 500 nautical miles off the Californian coast, across the northern Pacific, past Hawaii and almost as far as Japan.

  So the question begs to be asked, “What can I, one single person, do to stop this mess?” The quick answer is “Just say NO to disposables”. Mexico City recently joined San Francisco, Mumbai, New Delhi and hundreds of other cities, as well as several countries, in banning  plastic bags. Many cities and countries without an outright ban have taxed plastic bags to the point where people have virtually stopped using them. Ireland, for example, began charging for plastic bags in 2002, and since then, usage has plummeted. The country has, in effect, forced its citizen to be more environmentally conscious.

  But why wait for our town, state or country to force us to take this simple step towards weaning ourselves from the oil teat? The ‘urban tumbleweeds’ are a blight on our beautiful Appalachian mountains and waterways, and pose serious risks for animals and fish that mistake them for food in the water or become entangled in them. In case you didn’t know, the common disposable plastic bag is a byproduct of petroleum and natural gas. Call me crazy, but with the planet’s increasingly harder-to- reach oil reserves diminishing, I’d kinda like to save the remaining reserves for things like medicine or food transport rather than single use anything.

The two disposables that come immediately to my mind are bags and diapers. Reusable bags and baskets have been used for hundreds of years to carry our goods,  and some form of reusable diapers have been worn throughout human history. I cloth diapered four babies, sometimes two kids at a time, and forty years later, none of them seems to have suffered any ill effects from that practice! I figure I saved enough money by not buying disposable diapers for those four to put them through college! A quick Ebay search tells me a dozen cloth diapers can be had for about $20, while a case of 96 disposables costs $45!!! Today’s sturdy cloth diapers are made to last for many years, even with repeated launderings, and then remain useful as dust or cleaning rags for many more. My reusable water bottle has already saved me many, many dollars by not having to purchase bottled water, and probably has saved the landfill space a dump truck load or two as well. The cloth shopping bags I use will hold so much more than the flimsy plastic ones, so the job of carrying my purchases from the car to the house has become considerably faster, and I don’t have a  basketball -sized wad of plastic to deal with once they’ve been emptied. I’ve heard people say that they always forget to bring their cloth tote bags to the store, or their reusable water bottle to the gym. I’d be willing to bet money that if they were cloth diapering a baby and had to go somewhere, they wouldn’t forget the diapers! Do the math, consider the pros and cons about bags, bottles and diapers and see if you arrive at the same conclusions. Many will consider such things as ‘too much work’. I consider going to a job to earn money to buy such things ‘too much work’. It would take a part time job just to keep a baby in disposable diapers and a family in bottled water!

   Of course, our addiction to oil and it’s ugly stepsister, plastic, doesn’t stop with bags, bottles and diapers. Beverage containers that hold everything from milk to soda all use oil to make them, as does everything from denture adhesive to toilet seats. We can’t avoid all plastics, but we CAN avoid single use items. Plastic gift cards are my current pet peeve and could be avoided easily by simply giving cash, allowing the recipient to shop wherever they want to. What a concept! A note included with the cash letting the giftee know how thoughtful you are by allowing them to make their own shopping choices should ease any self imposed guilt the giver may have over gifting cash. The only one to benefit from a gift card is the store where you bought it. And yeah, they’re reloadable. How many have YOU reloaded? Just sayin’…

   I feel kind of bad using this blog to spread negativity, but at the same time, feel that if I could influence just one person to make these simple changes in their life then it will be worth risking my reputation as Pollyanna. (For you younger readers, Pollyanna was the title character in a popular children’s book from back when dinosaurs roamed the earth-1913 actually. She had a sometimes disgustingly optimistic view of things).  However, hope and optimism remain critical elements of a life well lived, and I remain so, even during these challenging times of  transitioning to a lifestyle based on sustainability and community-building.  Oil has been our god for many decades, but the days of cheap oil have come to an end so it’s important that we gracefully learn to adapt to a new way of life, based on our own energies and local resources, rather than being forced to make the needed changes.  Cutting the plastic is a simple step we can easily take in that direction, saving lots of our hard earned cash in the process. What’s so drastic about that?

2 Comments so far
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I don’t know how many times I’ve had to ask a cashier or bagger not to put my one or two items in a bag, only to eventually have to take them out myself. They push those freaking bags like they’re candy.

Comment by doug

My daughter uses cloth diapers & even makes her own wipes, which are washed.

The subject of disposables is emotional to me…we waste so much. I’ve been carrying around environmental bags for over 20 years, and it’s upsetting that those plastic bags are even an option. Can I tell you how many times people say they forget and leave them in the car? Okay, well, go get them! And the plastic water bottles? If you forget your bottle, you don’t get to drink. That’s incentive enough to not forget in the future.

Anyway, well written Sam. I agree with you that we need to save fossil fuels for really important stuff! Bottom line: it’s the culture that has to change, don’t you think?

Comment by Cassa

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