Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Plastic Parenting

While they had plenty of worries, I don't think our ancestors gave much thought to the earth's rising temperatures, burning of fossil fuels,  a trash-centric way of life or other eco-systemic issues. 

As my friends can attest, I have, of late, become a bit crazed with how much garbage we produce. Perhaps it is because I am now a parent, and worry about the world I am leaving my daughter. Or perhaps, it is just part of the process of getting older (wiser?). But whatever the case, we produce a great deal of wasteful garbage. According to a recent Duke University study, the average American produces 4.3 pounds of waste everyday, way up from 1.6 pounds produced per person in 1960. Seems like we can all stand to lose a "few pounds"!

We are just three people in my family -- three people producing a lot of trash -- a least 2 bags of household trash, PLUS a huge bag of plastic recyclables, AND at least another bag of paper products -- every week! Three People!  Despite very concerted efforts to limit online ordering, using cloth bags at the supermarket, and reusing as much glass and paper whenever possible, we still produce an exceptional amount of trash.  Where does it all go? Mostly, I presume, to one of the 3500 methane producing landfills in this country.

Spending time by the beach always makes me think about the state of our precious planet. 
One of the biggest trash producing culprits -- plastic. Plastic is everywhere and has become indispensible. It's convenient, it's nearly impossible to avoid, and getting rid of it is hardly a popular opinion, just yet.

I am always picking up trash at the beach.  One Saturday morning, early in the summer, I picked up 10 deflated helium balloons.  Many of them said:  "Get Well Soon."  I couldn't help but think we should be sending this same wish to our planet.

But here is the really depressing news --

  • It takes 500-1000 years for plastic to break down.  So ostensibly, unless it was burned (illegal?) every piece of plastic that was ever produced still exists, in landfill, in gutters, in our oceans. Take a moment on that!

  • Americans buy more bottled water than any other nation, about 2.5 million -- per hour! So let's just stop it!  Instead, reuse those bottles, or better yet, fill up reusable bottles. Here in New York, a small bottle of water can cost $2 (if it were gasoline, that would amount to over $12/gallon!).

  • Oil is a chief ingredient in plastic, some of which invariable leaches into food product, especially if the product is microwaved or overheated in transport.  That certainly cannot be good for the body, and is by no means organic!

  • What's more, according to Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute, we used approximately 17 million barrels of oil in 2006 to produce plastic for bottled water in America. This also produced over 2.5 million tons of CO2.  By the way, this does not include the energy used to fill, ship and cool these bottles. Besides oil, plastic contains toxic chemicals, including flame retardants, fungicides, and pigments. That doesn't sound remotely healthy!

Beautiful Long Island beach, which we invariably find trash floating within.

Ok, enough of the depressing stuff!

Here is what we can do:

As I already said, limit the use of plastic water bottles. This alone would be providing a huge service to our planet. Buy a bunch of stainless steel bottles and put them everywhere -- car, work, home.  Refill them!

Teach your children about responsible containers. Children should be taught that their actions matter, it's their future and plastic pollution does not need to be the norm.  It isn't hard to do, some of it is just mere cheerleading when they make earth friendly choices, and encouraging awareness when they do not.

Kids take cues from adults, so be sure to set an example. It's not hard - use reusable water bottles (repeating myself) and bring your own containers/bags when leaving the house, consider ordering drinks in restaurants without straws, and when you notice trash on the street, pick it up.  Kid's will get the message, that mindful choices about plastics and garbage can make a difference.

We have choices and businesses respond to our choices.  So demand less disposible packaging and less throw-away product.  Be sure to buy bio-based packaging whenever possible. Use the buy-in-bulk stations at your grocer, and bring your own bottles to fill.

I have been saying for some time now that we should encourage businesses to offer low-cost cold water bottle refill stations. This would not only remind customers to use their own water bottles but it would inevitably be a draw for people to come into the business, and have a look around.

Believe it or not, this is a shot looking out from the Whole Foods parking lot in Brooklyn, in the trendy Gowanus section.

One final suggestion -- use biodegradable materials when mailing packages and encourage your favorite online stores to do the same.  Aside from being incredibly bad for the planet, the styrofoam peanuts are maddening -- they are impossible to clean out of a large box, stick to hands while trying to do so and the little bits end of flying irretrievably all over the house.  It's just time for them to go, from the planet!

I just read that, once again, 2014 was the hottest year on record -- not a celebratory milestone. But that said, thanks for making an attempt at being a part of the solution and for making good choices.  Our precious earth seems to be keeping score, so every effort counts!

Pondering the planet, in a man bun!

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