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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

More on Plastic

Once again Nancy and I are struggling with the same issue...

I am just finished reading the book Garbageland by Elizabeth Roythe, and no, it is not a bleak as it sounds. It is a fascinating look at what happens to our garbage after it is put in the truck. The book has changed my perspective and has given me an understanding of what happens to garbage and recyclables. It has also answered some lingering questions that I have, for example, is it okay to leave the plastic windows on envelopes when you recycle them? Yes.

One of the biggest takeaways of the book so far is about plastics. How could I not when the chapter about plastics is titled "Satan's Resin"? I already know that plastics are bad, I don't heat my food in plastic containers, I bring my own bags to the store and I am still trying to figure out an alternative to my Nalgene bottle. What I didn't know was how bad plastic actually are and how they are not really recyclable, they can only be down-cycled. After learning about this Nathan and I decided to cut down on our plastic consumption, how hard could it be, right? We already brought our bags to the store, we don't drink bottled water, and most drinks you can buy in a can. Right.

Once you start focusing on it plastic is used in almost all packaging, and my first trip to the grocery store after the decision was eye opening. My intention was not to go completely plastic free, but just to cut down, so one Monday night a few weeks ago I meet Nathan at Trader Joe's conscious of plastic. A few things I knew I would not be able to avoid buying in plastic, for example bread and cheese, but for the other items I didn't always want to choose the plastic free alternative. The fresh pico de gallo salsa looked way better than the stuff in the jar, but what about the plastic container? The mochi ice cream balls have the plastic tray on the inside. I left feeling fairly discouraged, for it to be so hard for someone who is committed to reducing plastic usage there was no way this was ever going to take hold in mainstream America. Moreover, would I be able to stick it out?

It had only been 4 days and I already had plastic avoidance fatigue. That Friday, however, I had a glimmer of hope at the Mexican restaurant by my work. I went into the restaurant really wanting a toastada, but I was getting my meal to go, so I settled on a burrito that would be wrapped in foil instead of the plastic clam shell container. While I was waiting in line to pay I noticed all of these people holding what looked like a cardboard to go container. I was intrigued. I normally don't like to look like the crazed green fanatic, but I ended up asking the guy at the counter about the containers. Under a new San Francisco law restaurants must reduce the amount of plastic they use, hence the biodegradable soy based take out containers. While I ate a burrito that day, next time I am getting what I want.

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