Nineteen hundred and fifty-five is not really such a long time ago. I’d wager many readers (or their parents) were either donning buzz haircuts or saddle shoes at that time. It was the time Grandma Gert collected Green Stamps that she eventually traded in for a wheat-leaf motif set of dishware including the glass that held my morning fruit smoothie.
It was also the year that Life magazine published an article entitled “Throwaway Living” with the photo of a family joyously throwing armfuls of paper, plastic and “tin” disposables into the air. The article touted the convenience of single-use items, a homemaker’s godsend! After thousands of years of human civilization using, reusing, repairing and passing on cherished tools, utensils and household goods for generations, the “Throwaway Society” was born.
Grandma acquired the wheat-leaf glasses with the intention of passing them on. Thank you Grandma! In contrast, the plastic fountain-drink cup I used to fill the birdfeeders this morning had been manufactured to be a single-use item. Surprisingly, the barely visible date, 2008, on the label clearly indicates it has been serviceable well beyond that single serving use. Untold billions of plastic cups have been discarded since then.
Alas, we are awash in plastic trash. From the Great Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean to the micro-plastics in our food, water and the air we breathe, plastic debris is everywhere. For a variety of reasons, some well-intentioned some not, we’ve been led to trust that buying and disposing of any and all plastic stuff is fine if the item displays the triangular recycle symbol. But of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic created since 1955 only 9% has been recycled.
What to do? Start by remembering that “Recycle” is the LAST option in that familiar mantra. First REJECT plastic-packaged goods. Next REDUCE the amount of stuff we purchase. Then REUSE, REPAIR and REPURPOSE the stuff we have. Finally, by all means RECYCLE.
Technologists are finding ways to reduce the glut of existing plastics. For example, specialized microbes munch on some; pavement and structural materials are made from others, so this story CAN end as the best of times. Let’s make it so because our only home is right here where we’re forever… Earthbound.