Hello (Disposable) World!

I was in the grocery store one day with my wife, when I happened across this product.  These straws and the description given by the manufacturer struck a chord with me that day.  It was revolting enough that all I could do at the moment was laugh and take this picture.

An average person may see nothing wrong with this item or even the products in the background.  In fact, this kind of stuff has been so pervasive in our daily lives that most of us don’t stop to take a moment to think about it.

Let’s think about it…

So, let us take that moment to stop and think about plastic…

  • In 1997, a man named Charles Moore was sailing home across the Pacific Ocean and discovered what is known today as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch“, Garbage Island, Trash Island, among other names.  There is also a similar garbage patch in the Atlantic Ocean.  These garbage patches consist mostly of plastics mixed with and floating on the water.
  • Our use of plastics in our daily lives has dramatically escalated since the 1950s.  Just take a look at the shelves of your local grocery store today, you will be hard pressed to find anything that is not wrapped in plastic.  Compare that to the aluminum, glass, and cardboard used to package most foods in some 1950s grocery store pictures.  Packaging and other one time use products account for the majority of plastic use today.
  • There used to be advertisements on television that showed how much was possible because of plastics.  I remember these advertisements showed people and babies benefiting from the use of plastics in the medical field.
  • Products used to be made of sturdy materials such as wood, glass, and metal.  Some products still are, but the majority contain plastic parts, and some are even designed to fail, all in an effort to lower the cost and increase the speed of production resulting in increased profits for the manufacturer.

So for at least 60 years, the amount of plastics in our daily life has increased, the majority of plastics are manufactured for one-time use as packaging.  If you read or watch videos about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch it is easy to understand the absurdity that I see in a package labeled “Plastic Disposable Sanitary” straws.  This package is advertising the fact that the product is designed to be used once and then thrown away!

Medicine

The television advertisements, combined with many medical scares in the news and the importance placed on antibacterial everything make it easy for us to forget about our biological protection against foreign contaminants:  our immune system.  There are exceptions, such as people with compromised immune systems, that may need to take extra precaution in regards to their health.

Sure plastics may help, but it has been taken a bit too far.  If you ONLY look at the financial cost of throwing away one time use plastic products, it may cheaper to buy disposable plastic products than to train and pay someone a wage plus benefits to clean and sterilize reusable products.  Legal liability can also be passed on to a product’s manufacturer in the event of lawsuits. Profit and job cuts in one! Consider the fact that anyone can sue anybody for just about anything with not much personal loss except for some time.  Medical clinics, hospitals, and other related facilities take the “not my problem” approach to such liability claims by being some of the worst offenders of plastic use.

So much waste, for what?  To make hospital staff able to take care of more patients per day by using one-time use materials designed to be thrown away?  To release medical facilities from as much legal liability as possible?  All paths I can think of lead to reducing labor and liability costs and increasing profits without considering a bigger picture or taking responsibility.  I can think of a handful of people off the top of my head that would love to be able to have any job even if it meant cleaning and sterilizing medical equipment.

As an individual, consider the outcome if you took every precaution to never get sick.  You use antibacterial soap every time you wash your hands and body.  Took all of the precautions that these commercials tell you to.  Used plastic one-time use products to limit your exposure to germs. Your immune system would not have antibodies established for many common viruses.  The eventuality of becoming sick would be far more devastating than if you just took a moderate amount of precautions in the first place and allowed your immune system to take care of the rest.

A bag for a bag…

I was in a store with my wife when she was buying a shoulder bag/purse and after the transaction concluded, the clerk took the bag and put it into a plastic bag.  What sense does it make to put a bag into a bag so that it can be carried out of the store?  No thanks, I don’t need a bag, I have my own bag that I just bought from you!  The bag I just bought from you even has a shoulder strap to make it easier to carry than the flimsy plastic bag you are offering!

When I used to work in a retail store, I heard many people voice their concerns about the potential of being stopped or harassed by store staff if their purchase is not in a bag.  If I remember correctly, EVERY time I needed to prove that I purchased something, I had to show a paper receipt and not a plastic bag.  I happily reinforced the fact that the receipt proves the purchase and not the bag to these people.  Thieves sometimes try to use store bags to carry stolen items and walk out the door using this mentality.

Sure, there are times when you cannot carry everything in one trip.  Bags are incredibly handy, not just for making purchases.  Why not opt for a paper bag, bring your own, or use your purse or handbag?  Placing items you purchased into your own bag or purse is not strange or stealing, you own the item now, the clerk just gave you the proof of purchase receipt!

But, I threw my trash away properly…

So where does your trash go when you “throw it away” or recycle it?  Most people would probably say a landfill, dump, or recycling center.  A place where trash goes into giant piles to be processed.  Have you ever seen a picture of a landfill or recycling center?  They process tons of trash daily for cities all around the world.

I am no landfill or recycling expert, but I can imagine a few scenarios off the top of my head that could lead to a redistribution of our properly disposed trash:  animals and birds taking food wrapped in or stuck to plastic, wind and other daily environmental effects moving trash around, and natural disasters such as flooding.

“I did my part, threw my trash away or recycled it, the problem now belongs to someone else” is the excuse that explains why there are large accumulations of plastics such as Garbage Island and others.  Recycling helps, but throwing your trash away and recycling will never be enough as long as you keep buying and using products that contain plastics.

Taking Responsibility

You may have heard the term “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”.  If you really want to alter your plastic impact on the world, start by reducing your plastic consumption.  This includes: plastic bottles, straws, plastic bags, sandwich bags, products that contain plastic parts or packaging, etc.

Reducing will help the most, followed by reuse of products.  Why does a plastic baggie need to only be used once then thrown away?  How about plastic straws?  You may be thinking: “but, but…”.  Consider the fact that our ancestors survived long enough without plastics to produce us, any “buts” in your mind are only reinforcing your illogical dependency on plastics.

After you have reduced and reused, sometimes you cannot avoid the massive amounts of plastic used in packaging when you buy something, recycle it at your local recycling center!

Summary

Plastics are everywhere.  They are fast and cheap to manufacture.  Plastic packaging and products can be injected into a mold so that thousands of products can be produced per day.  Does that make it right?  What are you going to do about your plastic impact on your world?  How much are you contributing daily to the size of Garbage Island?  Look in your trash bin right now, what percentage is plastic?  Ours is about 90% paper, 5% plastic, 5% other and we have been reducing our plastic use for a while.  We are not extremists by any means and our plastic use could go down even more.  We are just people concerned about making our only world a better place to live.

“Sure doing the right thing sounds great and all if you don’t live the fast-paced lifestyle, eating fast food diets and are always on the go.  I just don’t have the time or energy to do these kinds of things.”  Well, I will keep in mind your not-so-unique story about being overworked and under-appreciated for another article…

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