Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Environmental Mindfulness


Day Two of the No Plastics Project, and so far I'm noticing how much I have not been noticing.

First of all, to be clear, I am not, unlike Beth Terry of Fake Plastic Fish, even trying to get rid of the plastic that I have in my house, serving in long-term jobs. Though I suspect that plastic does pose health threats to humans, I'm almost fifty years old. I've been surrounded by the stuff most of my life, my reproduction is done, and my concern is focused on the harm done by the production of new plastic, and the disposal of old stuff. I'm fine with using the plastic I already have--in fact, it seems to me that the most ethical thing I can do with existing plastic is hang onto it, take care of it, and keep it in use as long as I can. That goes for the stuff that has contact with food, like Teflon on my pans and plastic food containers, as much as it does for the vinyl siding (I know, I know--I didn't put it on there!) on my house.

My main focus is simple--or at least, it sounds simple: eliminate all single-use plastic from my life; reduce other new plastics as much as I can.

So: no bags of potato chips, and I'll make serious efforts to get produce without plastic (for instance). But I'm going to use up the products I already have packaged in plastic, and I may wind up buying more, if it's stuff I can't find substitutions for but deem I really "need" to live my relatively ordinary middle-class American life.

I'm noticing more and more how much plastic actually (*ahem*) wraps my daily life. Despite trying to reduce my plastic use for months, having committed to doing this publicly, I now see how I am surrounded by plastic: the band aid on my finger, the wrapper around the cardboard boxes of bar soap I use, the velcro band that holds the stalks of broccoli together in the store. Is the band around the asparagus made of rubber, or plastic? The ice cream cone from the stand near my house has no plastic packaging, but the sundaes sold in the same place are sold in styrofoam. I can refuse to eat them, of course, but should I be advocating for a different bowl with the owners of the stand, or refusing to eat there entirely? Where do I begin?

With finding a way to store my waste, among other things. One thing I do not want to do: be a typical consumerist American, and go out and buy myself a new THING--some kind of perfect storage container for the plastic I'm saving and tallying. What are the odds that such a container would be made of plastic, packaged in plastic, or packed in plastic.

Same thing for a scale to weigh my plastic waste, before throwing it away or recycling it. If I go rushing off to buy myself one, even if I find one that isn't made of plastic, how environmentalist is that?

I'm becoming more aware of the thousand small consumerist decisions I make on a daily basis, and of how often I "solve problems" by buying a new, specialized tool for a job that might not even need to be framed the way it is.

There was a time when I laughed at my mother-in-law and other thrifty people for saving, washing, and reusing plastic bags. I blush to admit it, now, but it's true: it struck me as false thrift, as fussy. And as messy! I have seen for sale special drying racks, intended for the environmentalists among us, for doing just this one thing, neatly. As I remember, they were made of wood.

But does that really matter? Rather than buy yet another toy for my kitchen, more stuff on a planet overstuffed with stuff, surely I can tolerate the mess?


I dry my bags by clothes-pinning them to my dish-rack. It does look like a mess. Maybe I have to just get over that. Isn't the insistence on total neatness and total cleanliness really a kind of marketing device for cleaning tools and chemicals? Or maybe not. Our ancestors did without the tools and the toys, but I don't think they especially wanted to live in hippie squalor.

All of this can descend to a kind of navel-gazing and obsession, if I let it. That's the dark side of this attempt.

What's the up side?

Being aware of how long I am using the hot water in the shower.
Thinking a little more about clustering errands when I shop or drive anywhere.
Remembering every time I leave the computer to turn it off.

It's all small stuff. Nothing is revolutionary here. But what I'm trying for is a new way of relating to the things I, as a modern woman, live surrounded by. I think that if I can manage to be mindful of plastic, the stuff that is everywhere, and which we are supposed to buy, use up, and toss away with no thought to the consequences, it may help me to be more mindful of where my food comes from, where my energy goes... maybe even, of how much I substitute being with things for being with people and Spirit.

We'll see. For now, I fall in and out of mindfulness, and in and out of self-consciousness. Hopefully I will find both my balance and an alternative to plastic-packaged deodorant soon.

Beach image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons: found at Real Oceans blog.
Bag drier sold through Amazon.com, or, better, check out this link about making your own.

6 comments:

Anne Johnson said...

You've already made a difference. I'm not the swiftest boat in the water. It never occurred to me to take the same plastic vegetable bag back to the store again for more vegetables!

Also, I wonder how we could petition the cosmetics and personal hygiene companies to use less plastic in their packaging? Please post on this site when you find shampoo that comes in a cardboard container or a glass bottle! I'll take my chances with breakage.

Tess said...

Just found this new blog via your powerful post at Quaker Pagan.

You roused me to more thoughtfulness - that every day counts. I have tried to live up to my own expectations of myself as a "green" person, but it's frightening how quickly exceptions creep into your life when busy etc. Just one pre-bagged meal... forgot the permanent shopping bag, one more plastic bag won't hurt etc.
I'm based in the UK, and it will be interesting to see what differences there might be with how wide-spread plastic is here and in the States. Sadly, a difference only in scale, I suspect.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Hi, Anne, Hi Tess,
I'm so glad you've stopped by! I hope you'll both make suggestions when you have them--I am fairly new at this anti-plastics witness myself, so there's a lot I haven't yet found.

Two things on the topic of shampoo, Anne: I have found that bar soap, if I'm picky about the brand, actually works pretty well for me. The trick is to find one that is not too harsh, and to remember to wash the scalp, not the hair. I have been using Dove unscented soap for years (packaged in cardboard, though with packs of boxes outer-wrapped in plastic) and I recently figured out that it works just fine for my hair.

If I got fussy, I figured I could use a clarifying or conditioning shampoo once a week or once a month, as needed.

However, my friend Beth claims that one of the local coops has a refill station for things like shampoo. I'm not a big coop customer generally, as they can be pretty pricey around here, but I will be checking that out. Perhaps there's a similar situation at a coop near you?

We won't save the world by living greener. But if we can roll back some of the destructive habits we've taken up, as a culture, over the last forty years, it will at least be a start. And if we could live just a little bit more the way our ancestors did, in the thrifty forties and thirties, it would be a big start. Advocacy at a corporate and governmental level is needed, too, but in years to come, all of us will need to change the way we live as individuals.

Why not start sooner, rather than later? Why not live with as much integrity as we can, right?

Beth @ Fake Plastic Fish said...

Hi there. Just jumping in here as a cheerleader. Also, I want to clarify one thing: except for plastic in contact with food, I don't want to replace the plastic things I already have either! Believe me, I have a lot of plastic stuff in my house. But even though I too am almost 50 (well, 4-1/2 years away) and no chance of getting pregnant (unless by some weird miracle...) I still don't want to be eating/drinking out of plastic. But that's just me.

Anyway, just wanted to clarify that because I'm definitely not an advocate of ditching all the plastic things we already have.

Cheers!

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Ooh! Thanks for clarifying, Beth! Yes, I already knew that you are not ditching the plastic you've got. I really regret any impression I might have made that you are casual about your decisions around the plastic you keep or do not keep.

And thanks, too, for stopping by. So much of what I know about this issue, and so much of my conviction that I can't simply not act any longer, is the result of your writing. I can't say enough how much I appreciate the work you do.

Alyss said...

Your post on your other blog, and then stumbling upon Little Plastic Fish on Friday, have brought this topic exploding into my conciousness this weekend. I'm not sure what shape my "concern" will take, but I'm already at least noting the plastic in my life more than I had been before. Thank you for that.

As for the shampoo question Anne had... bar soap and refilling containers are good ideas. I actually switched to a baking soda and vinegar method last year due to concern over chemicals in conventional cosmetics (many of which are petroleum derived, and thus a type of plastic). I make my own vinegar (you can buy that in glass) but the baking soda came packed in plastic and my "in the shower" containers are plastic, but it still uses much less plastic than individual bottles of shampoo. If you google "no poo hair" then you'll find a number of websites talking about it.

Thanks again!

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