I happened to see the end of a very disturbing story on 60 Minutes the other night. It wasn’t about betraying and dishonest politicians or multi-millionaire pedophiles, gratefully I was still enjoying dinner with my parents for those headline stories. Rather it was about the amount of plastic in the world and how it is harming wildlife, specifically birds. You can watch the full video and story here. The use of plastics has been on my mind a lot lately, so I just wanted to bring it up and maybe it will start some conversations and change some actions in your life.
In 1992 I moved to Berkeley for graduate school at the Jesuit School of Theology. It was a revolutionary time in my life for many reasons, including the impact on my use of disposable items. Walking 1.5 miles from my apartment to campus daily I noticed every car, and I mean every car, had a bumper sticker with a current “cause.” It seemed clear to me that everyone had an issue they felt strongly about. Berkeley-ans seemed passionate about everything, things that I may not have even thought about having grown up in Orange Country, CA. In Berkeley people were already concerned about the environment: they brought their own mugs to coffee shops, bags to the grocery store, and recycling options were everywhere. Seeds were planted early enough in my life, that led to a little more awareness of how my actions, my consumption, my my use and exposure to plastics affect the larger world, specifically the oceans and wild-life.
During my two years in Berkeley I adopted a few simple practices that have stayed with me since then. For example, I bought 4 cloth napkins back in 1992, then 4 more in 1996, and a few more over the years. I’ve only bought paper napkins for parties. I do use paper towels for things like wiping up greasy pans, drying proteins (meats and fish) before I cook them, and draining fried foods. Other than that those 12 cloth napkins have served me well all this time. I wash them after a few uses, and have enough to offer guests new napkins.
I’m not one to lay a guilt trip on anyone if their life philosophy doesn’t jive with mine. The science and evidence, though is getting really real and seriously deadly for wildlife these day. Check out this recent article from NPR and this photo essay from National Geographic. They are beautiful and disturbing.
There are two issues here: over-consumption and single use plastics.
A plastic bottle of water may serve our thirst in the moment, but it will be around for generations. Wait…. FOR GENERATIONS? Yes. Just because we put it in the recycling container doesn’t mean it’s gone. It’s just out of our site. The 60 minutes piece showed how plastics (pieces, whole bags and other stuff are showing up in the bodies of birds and other wildlife in far away places. (Check out this NatGeo photo of a sea horse holding/connected to a cotton swab)
“I think the evil isn’t plastic — it’s using something once,” says Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of TerraCycle, in Trenton, N.J. He says the throwaway culture in the U.S. took shape in the mid-20th century. “There were advertisements in 1950 that talk about, ‘You don’t have to wash the dishes anymore, simply take the whole thing, — the cutlery, the dishes, the tablecloth itself — and throw it all out,’ ” he says. That disposability was made possible in large part by the invention of cheap plastic.
So please consider your lifestyle and make some small changes.
On my flight from Chicago to So Cal this weekend I realized I have a few things in my purse that save some plastic and paper use:
REI camping spork for my salad from DeColores at Midway. I requested “No bag” to carry it from the counter to the table (6 feet). I carry a re-usable bag in my purse and carry-on in case I really do need it.
Cloth napkins for when I spilled a little beverage and airline paper napkin distributed with beverage wasn’t enough.
Yeti tumbler to fill with water for flight and throughout my trip.
Living an illumined life isn’t hard, but it does take some thought and preparation. What might be an “inconvenience” to some, like carrying and washing my spork, tumbler, and cloth napkin, I believe, makes even a small difference for other creatures in my lifetime on this earth.