Wednesday, June 10, 2015

And CUE The Trombone Of Failure!

Yeah, that one.

For the entire morning of June 10th, I thought I'd finally pulled off the thing I've been trying to pull off for a while now. I joyfully announced it on Facebook. I'd composed the blog post in my head. It was going to have a blank picture repeated twice and they were going to be labelled, "All the plastic that I acquired today!" and "All the plastic I threw away today!", followed by written representations of celebratory exclamations (woohoo, yeehaw, yippee ti yo ti yay and so forth), mention of how it would've been nice to do this a day earlier in honor of World Oceans Day but still, I did it, happy happy joy joy, etc., etc.

Yes, I'd gone to bed last night completely believing that I had finally managed a net zero plastic day - meaning a day where I only used plastic that I already owned, didn't acquire any new plastic of ANY sort, and didn't throw any plastic away. This is a game that I've been playing with myself as an offshoot of a more general effort to reduce my personal contributions to the world's plastic litter problem; as I explained in a post back in May, I've been aware for ages that there were two ways that I was being needlessly wasteful with disposable plastic (went through this in a post back in May but in case you missed that here they are again):

1. Plastic shopping bags: Although I try to keep my plastic shopping bag use down by taking bags with me when I go shopping, I wasn't very strict with myself about ALWAYS doing that. I've got  an actual purpose-made grocery bag -- an incredibly awesome grocery bag that my friends Steve and Camilla brought me from Hawaii in fact, check 'um out -- 


and then because my intentions are basically good there's a GINORMOUS bag of plastic bags under the kitchen sink for theoretical reuse - but then if I was on the way home from work and I realized I needed something I would just go ahead and get it even if I didn't have a bag. Trying to be better about NOT being lazy that way - go home and get the bag first, or just don't get whatever if that's not practical (I suddenly find myself carrying a bookbag regularly as that's very handy for on-a-whim purchases).

2. Lunch in disposable clamshells: I almost always eat lunch at my desk. I used to almost always bring it down from the cafeteria in one of those flimsy disposable plastic clamshells. I felt a little weird the first couple of times I handed members of the cafeteria staff a clean reusable plastic container and asked them to put my lunch in that, but they turned out to be completely amenable to the idea. The only time anyone's questioned it at all was once when I got salad bar, which is sold by weight, and the cashier pointed out that my container was heavy and so I was paying more than I should. I don't usually get salad, there'd just been something extra-good in the salad bar that day & I was willing to pay a bit more to stick with my plastic-reduction program. She was fine with that, just wanted to make sure I knew.

This has been so easy that I'm kicking myself for not doing it ten years ago, it's not like I haven't been aware of the waste, but when I got involved in the NYC welcome committee for the 
Hōkūle'a, I was finally motivated to work on these as my own little "Mālama Honua" (Care for the Earth, the theme of the voyaging canoe's amazing worldwide voyage).

The zero-net-plastic idea came in a while after I'd started. I would say that it is virtually impossible for a person living an average life here in the USA to get through a day without USING plastic - heck, it would be hard to get through an hour, it's useful stuff, that's why it's everywhere - all I've been trying to do is cut down on the disposables. Naturally, there have been days when I've done better, and days when I've done worse, and at some point there was a day when I realized that I've gone most of the way through a day and hadn't directly and personally moved any specific plastic items on through the waste chain - hadn't gotten any new, hadn't discarded any old. Decided to see if I could carry that on through the rest of the day - made it home but then emptied a bag of frozen corn into some soup I was warming up for dinner, and there I was holding the not-really-reusable bag - end of that try. Subsequent attempts were stymied by a q-tip (you really can't do anything with a q-tip after you've cleaned your ears with it but throw it away), a plastic-frilled decorative sandwich pick (given to me in the sandwich which I'd so carefully had the chef at the sandwich station put in my reusable plastic container), and a little bar-code sticker on a piece of fruit (I almost let myself slide on that one but then I decided that there wasn't much point in self-imposed rules if you are going to go and cheat on them).

What blew my latest close one in such a sneaky way that I didn't catch it until halfway through the following day?

A takeout container.

An old friend from my Pier 63 days had been following all of this silliness and commented this morning's triumphant Facebook post that she was inspired to try it herself. She asked what I thought of adding cardboard and I started to respond that that would be an interesting addition but that if I added that retroactively I would have to undo my successful day because I'd had leftover Thai food for breakfast and thrown away the little cardboard container in which I'd brought it home the night before.

I was halfway through typing that comment when I was suddenly hit by a most unhappy thought. Cardboard isn't ordinarily completely greaseproof - those little foldup takeout buckets have to be coated with something to keep them from just soaking up all the grease and moisture from the food and just collapsing into a soggy mess in the fridge. Maybe at one time it was wax - but I bet these days...

A quick Google confirmed that these days, a lot of containers of this sort are rendered leakproof by being "polycoated".

Yup, sounds like plastic to me. My zero-net-plastic attempt had most likely been blown by 8:15 a.m. the day of the attempt.

Waah waah waah waaaaaaaaaah.

 Click here for an interesting short history of the foldable takeout box, or "oyster pail", as it turns out they are also called. Turns out they're as Chinese as fortune cookies!


clairesgarden said...

please dont' beat yourself up about the small things.. its very very hard to avoid plastic... you are way way ahead of most people on this because you are trying!! and most aren't.. I'm just moving house yet again and using lots of plastic bags for my stuff.. I have reusable cardboard boxes but I have too much stuff...

bonnie said...

Oh, I'm not beating myself up - the zero net plastic thing is really something I'm approaching as a game, just to see if I can. If I can, I "win". I would describe my attitude towards my repeated non-wins as more bemused than distressed -- the overall reduction plan is going quite nicely, it's just been interesting to see how genuinely ubiquitous the stuff is on these occasional days when I've set myself this slightly higher bar.