Saturday, August 07, 2010

How to Weigh a Dead Car: Weeks Eight, Nine, and Ten Tally (Sort Of)

So this is an overdue tally, and I've realized that I'd probably post here more often, and the posts would probably be more interesting to read, if I didn't have the nagging feeling all the time that I "owe" the blog the latest tally.

The idea of posting the weight of our plastic waste (recyclable or not) has been to provide a kind of focus point, really just to keep me aware and noticing my use of plastic.  Knowing I'm going to be adding that plastic straw I forgot to specify to a waitress not to give me, please, hopefully makes it more likely I'll remember next time... but doesn't make for either thrilling writing or reading.

So I'm going to change the way I post this information.  It still seems like an important thing to have here, a kind of concrete checkpoint for readers that it's not all just a theoretical rant about the environment going on here, but actually an attempt at change.

But it's boring.

So from now on, I'll be posting our plastic tallies on the sidebar of the blog; you can find the information if you care to visit and look for it, but if you're following the blog via RSS reader, or checking it when there are updates, there will be no more updates coming on this subject.

I'm going to change the way we measure certain other kinds of plastic waste, too.

There's  a lot that's arbitrary in how we're measuring plastic use.  When I visited my doctor a few weeks back, for instance, they took my vitals when I came in, using a digital thermometer which gets a disposable plastic sleeve just for me.  Once they have my temp, into the trash it goes.

But not onto the tally; I'm counting that as the doctor's waste, and not my own.

Really?  I have no responsibility for that future toxic fossil?  None at all?  Well, not exactly, right?  But it's hard to measure, and I'm still striving for that elusive balance between wearing my witness in the world, and not being a total jerk about it.  So while watching that probe cover go into the trash gave me a feeling of unease, I neither stopped the busy nurse to listen to my lecture, nor halted her motion to capture that plastic sleeve to go into my own tally.  Maybe, with some thought, I'll come up with an alternative or an angle on advocacy on this kind of medical waste, but it just didn't seem like the moment to try to speak to an issue I hadn't yet thought about.

So I took the easy route that time, and counted the waste as "not mine."

Then there are objects that I'm not about to try to weigh.  For instance:




How do I weigh this?

During the last three weeks, Peter and I have been dealing with the aftermath of an accident we had on the Interstate.  We're completely fine and no other cars were involve, which is cause for gratitude; our car, alas, has been declared totalled.

Yes, for the observant out there, the car is, in fact, pointing toward the oncoming traffic and not away from it.  It turns out that a 180 at 65 mph is really bad for your car--not that I'd say it was deliberate on my part.  You may also notice the movement of the guardrail, at left?  About 3", we estimated at the time.  We struck it sideways, and it ate a lot of our momentum, which is probably why this story ends as happily--for the humans, at least--as it does.

I'm not sure exactly how much plastic there is in a late model Pontiac Vibe wagon, but my official estimate, without putting the thing onto the scale, removing all the plastic, and then reweighing it, is "a lot."

And I'm not exactly advocating for plastic-free cars.  When I was a kid, cars had a lot more metal inside them than they do today... and people died in accidents more often, too, when their heads struck unyielding metal dashboards and so forth.

The point remains, we added a whole bunch of hard-to-measure plastic to the waste stream this month.

I can't realistically tell you how much.

Nor would it be easy to get a precise weight on the plastic waste in the dead vacuum cleaner and window fan we also added to the waste stream this summer.  What to do about un-repairable plastic appliances?

Well, as Peter points out, storing plastic waste inside our home doesn't change the fact that it's waste.  Some things reach the end of their useful lives, and while some countries, like Germany, require manufacturers to take back appliances at the end of their useful lives, ours does not.

The car is going to the insurance company.  (On the bright side, they'll undoubtedly either fix it up for resale or sell it for parts.)

The fan and the vacuum cleaner are both going to the dump.  And I'm not going to try to weigh them.

I will, however, post photographs here (eventually--they're not up yet) also in the sidebar, showing pictures of the hard-to-measure plastic waste we produce as a household.  It counts, too; it may be harder to measure and easier to justify than a plastic drinking straw or other single use plastics, but it is part of what we, as a household, have contributed to the harm of the earth this year.  It's worth knowing.

But more worth knowing is that we have taken pains to replace the vacuum cleaner, at least, with a not just used but venerable and worthy vaccuum cleaner--a rebuilt Electrolux, with almost no plastic parts beyond the hose.

We do what we can.

2 comments:

Ivy said...

Balance is really key. Things like disposable medical supplies--well, what's the alternative? You don't want to spread germs, but what's the impact of having to go through the sterilization process for non-disposable supplies?

It's so easy, I think, to get caught up in the all or nothing mindset, rather than focusing on what's really necessary.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

@ Ivy: I rather suspect that there are ways to disinfect the thermometer probe at my doctor's office, without resorting to an individualized plastic sleeve each time. I think it's possible to be a lot greener than that--though, unlike in the case of, say, the ice cream stand down the road from me that uses styrofoam plates and bowls, I'm not sure I can identify it for them.

I guess it seems to me that the place to begin advocacy is with the places where the alternatives are clear--ice cream stands before doctors' offices. Though if I worked in the industry, I might be in a better position to generate alternatives.

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