Folks, this is about my "consumption" of plastic over the next year. I'm looking at what I have, what I buy, and why I seem to need this hundred and fifty year old man-made concoction more than my mother's fried chicken.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

And all I got was this big pile of plastic...

I am not going to lie. I have been procrastinating (an understatement, I know) on the composition of this last post for a few reasons:
  1. The year went by too fast, clocks be damned. I still have a few topics in mind.
  2. I don't want the final post to be garbage.
  3. I was paralyzed by the giant pile of plasticrap.
  4. The other non-plastic parts of my life were in complete and total upheaval.
Here I am, 6.5 months after my year of plastic with plenty of poop bags to spare and finally at peace with the fact that this last post (like so many plastic inventions) will not be my best creation. Plastic has taught me that you can always start out with a good idea, but it may not amount to much more that a plastic knife that can't cut dog doodie on a hot day in Atlanta. And on that note, I would like to share some of my other plastic life lessons.
  1. Excess can come in small packages: Unless you are recovering from oral surgery, have lost the ability to drink straight from a cup, or cannot stand upright, there is no excuse to drink from a straw. The only concession I will make at this point is for frozen drinks: shakes, frappes, smoothies, and margaritas. Everything else is excessive. Straws now remind me to assess excess in my life.
  2. Impermanence is natural: People, love, anger, bank account balances, security, waistlines, happiness, work, health, gardens...everything comes and goes. But plastic is forever. You know why? Because it isn't natural. How many unnatural things do I have in my life?
  3. Convenience cripples: From the plastic that upholds the multi-billion dollar fast food industry to the annoying little plastic clip that hold a new pair of socks together on the rack, so many plastics have upgraded themselves from conveniences to perceived necessities. Without many plastics, global trade would implode and force us to be locally dependent and resourceful. Just take 2 minutes to think about it. Ready, set, go.
  4. Containment aids denial: The overarching theme of my year was packaging & containment. We gotta wrap stuff, ship goods, package food, contain liquids, protect cheap plastic products with cheap plastic packaging and then dump those cheap plastic products in the plastic garbage barrel when they break. We use plastic to make plastic and we use plastic to dispose of plastic. There is no containment method for plastic...or anything really. Landfills degrade the outer landscape just like stored anger and resentment contaminates the inner landscape.
And I'll stop there.
However, I want to end with the last known photos of my plastics. Alas, I didn't make a sculpture. I ended up retiring the pile to several recycle bins and garbage cans.

Did recycling a lot of it make me feel better? No. Because I know that all of it still exists somewhere. Maybe some of it is in a fleece jacket, the stomach of a snapper, in a tree overlooking the harbor, or compacted within several layers of dirty diapers and mummified food in a Massachusetts landfill.

It kind of looks like a bar graph, no?

The plastichaos was really quite organized...

Pile O' Styrene...

I eat a lot of food bars...

The leaning tower of drink cups... suck.

This was my "bathroom" many different things can you count?

I liked collecting chip bags the most.

I had a filing system...

Plastic cutlery is overrated. This is not an opinion.

I had plastic containers to store my plastic...sick.

Hugo is positively overwhelmed...

I am too, buddy.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Week 49-50: Plastatistics

I was just chatting with a friend the other day about how much we love creating them, love checking everything off when we have completed the self-inflicted task. What I also love are factoids & statistics. So, I thought I would try and wrangle some interesting facts and statistics (given that 85% of all statistics are wrong) related to plastics for all of you factoid list junkies.

80%: the percentage of plastic bottles that are landfilled in the US.*

70%: the percentage of plastics that are sourced from natural gas.*

166: the average number of plastic water bottles that one American disposes of in a year.*

3,214: the number of BTU's required to manufacture 1 HDPE (#2) bottle.*

2,155: the number of BTU's required to manufacture 1 glass bottle.

2,013: the number of BTU's required to manufacture 1 PET (#1) bottle.

5.8 million: the number of of BTU's in 1 barrel of crude oil (42 gallons).*

1: the number of BTU's in a match

BTU-commentary-interlude-side-bar-tangent: I admit, I am perplexed by the measurement of energy. Physics, Chemistry, Engineering? Not really my forte. My mind is a little more suited to taxonomy, literature, and the arts. However, I am trying to wrap my head around the British Thermal Unit and this is already challenging because I am an American. We Americans, in our Frank Sinatra-"My Way"-kind-of-attitude about things, have imposed a cultural retardation upon ourselves. Choosing to be special & independent rather than practical & unified, we insist on measuring the world using the USA System of Measurement (aka, a copycat of The Imperial System) rather than the "other" (metric) system that some of those "other" (the rest of the world other than Liberia and Burma) people use. Compared to the 10 metric units of measurement, there are 300 units of measurement in the USA/Imperial System including the "Mark Twain", which is the minimum safe clearance for steam wheel boats (set to 2 fathoms). Sam Clemens must have liked the sound of that because he chose it as his pen name. Why make things simple when they can be colorful and complicated? But I digress. Back to the list.
1995: the year of the highest rate (27.9%) of recycling between 1991-2006.*

2%: the percentage of crude oil that plastic packaging consumes.*

60-90%: the average recycling rate in bottle bill states (Royte, Bottlemania, 156).

23%: the average recycling rate in non-bottle bill states (Royte, Bottlemania, 156).

3.5-7 million tons: the amount of plastic found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.*

12.1%: the percentage of the US solid waste stream that plastic occupies.*

17 million: the # of barrels of oil that goes into the production of water bottles in the US each YEAR (Royte, Bottlemania, 139).

20 million: the number of barrels of oil that the US consumes every DAY (Royte, Bottlemania, 139).

6:1: the ratio (in pounds) of ocean plastic to zooplankton (2002 study by Charles Moore, Algalita Marine Research Foundation).

$0.15: the price that Ireland charges per plastic bag which has resulted in a 90% reduction in use (Royte, Garbage land, 192).

$15 billion: What American spent on bottled water in 2006. *

Priceless: the cost of reusing containers & reducing the amount of plastics in your life.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Week 48: Bloody Plastic

This post is about plastics and the menstrual cycle. The period. The moon cycle. The rag. Red Tide. A visit from Aunt Flo. Rio de roja. Whatever you call it, you are likely to dam it (and damn it) with plastic. I have been using tampons and maxi pads for 20 years. Hmm...I sense some fun math calculations coming on...

Because I know you are dying to know how many maxi pads and tampon applicators I have used and disposed of so far, here are the current totals:

total # of pads = 1,200 (20 years x 12 cycles x 5 pads per cycle)
total # pad packages = 1,200 (20 years x 12 cycles x 5 pad packages per cycle)
total # of sticky tabs = 3,600 (20 years x 12 cycles x 15 sticky tabs per cycle)
total # of tampon applicators = 720 (5 years x 12 cycles x 12 tampon applicators per cycle)
total # of OB tampon packages = 2,016 (15 years x 12 cycles x 12 OB tampons per cycle)
total # of Instead soft cups = 120 (2 years x 12 cycles x 5 Insteads per cycle)
total # of Instead packages = 120 (2 years x 12 cycles x 5 Instead packages per cycle)
total # of plastic items = 8,976 (sum of all items listed above)
total cost of my period = $811.12 (adding avg. cost of pads, tampons, OB, Instead & multiplying by total items used in those categories + the cost of The Keeper kit)

I have sent roughly 9,000 little plastic bits of garbage to the landfills or incinerators in the name of my moon cycle.

Because I was hellbent on NOT keeping any of my dog's poop, household garbage, OR my own "red tide catchment systems", I had to find negotiations on that one. I've already written about Poopbags and now I bring you The Keeper. I bought The Keeper kit for $45.99. I received the tiniest brown box in the mail and I opened it like some buried treasure chest. And there she was, natural gum rubber (latex) in her own little fairy dust pouch. She was nestled in with her sidekicks; two tacky, floral, cotton, machine-washable pantyliners. If cared for properly, these products should last a decade.

I waited patiently for my first opportunity to take my Keeper for a test drive. When the time came, I found that I was...operationally challenged. After 5 failed attempts, I thought, "Hmmm, I cannot imagine this thing being comfortable once I do get it in. I mean, it's a thick rubber chalice for godssake!" I try, try, try again and finally, voila! The Keeper is kept. Then comes the challenge of...pouring the wine out of the chalice. The first few attempts were messy and it required some finesse to master a clean pour.

That was many moons ago. 11 to be exact. Now I am a Keeper expert, skilled in the ways of the "pinch, fold, & pop" and the "pour & rinse" methods. If I can do it, so can you, or your wife, girlfriend, sister or any random woman you want to share this with on the street.

And you will tell them, because I said so.

This is a good visual if you need support for your argument. And if that isn't enough, check out this New York Times article about the city's sewage treatment plant. And if that still isn't enough, take it from the plumbers on Flush TV. I recommend watching Episode One as well.

Plastic and cardboard applicators are designed to help us avoid contact with our own lady part. After the tampon spends some time us, if we do not send it to the landfill or incinerator by throwing it the garbage, we banish it to the toilet underworld where it joins billions of other tampons to wreak havoc on our sewers and waste water treatment plants. And disposable pads? They stink and who really wants to sit in their own blood if they don't have to?

In all seriousness, this is the best thing that has come out of this blog. Culture and conventional menstrual products are designed to distance a woman from this natural, unique, and beautiful process. That's right. I equated blood with beauty. Not all blood shed is violent. Most tampons are made of pesticide grown cotton that is then bleached. And this is something that the FDA says is fine to put into one of the most sacred and important places in the human body 12 weeks out of the year for 40-50 years? What is our obsession with whiteness anyway? Especially if it is just going to be soaked in blood, pee, or poop...

This is a wake up call for me and I hope it is for you too. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that there might not be any good reason for the tampon & maxi pad industry to exist at all. Yes, it requires adjustment, change, and a likely overdue reunion with your bits. I used to dread my cycle and see it as an unfair price to pay for being a woman. What I didn't realize is that it wasn't the period I dreaded; it was all the garbage that came with it. And would you believe? Once I made the change and reduced that heavy flow waste stream, my cycles followed suit.

Too much information? Good. I didn't think so.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Week 46 & 47: Pee cups, parties & cherry lime rickies

**Please skip this post if you have a weak stomach or have any uncompromising preconceived notions of me as a well-mannered lady .**

Nothing says "welcome home" like a virus bent on making a human stick, double-wick of dynamite out of me for 39.5 hours. It was my first week back at work and I almost made it until the clock struck midnight on Friday morning. And it was not the Grim Reaper who came knocking, but rather just his more sociable personal assistant. I think her name was Tina. She kicked me out of bed with a start at 12:49 am on Friday morning and we proceeded to engage in the longest meeting of my life. My love for life was tested a total of 57 times, each time begging for mercy at the foot of the plastic toilet throne. Cleaning up your own effluent off the bathroom floor causes one to reflect in a deeper way about life and purging the excess from it.

After much much thought and dehydration, I adjourned my meeting with Tina on Saturday afternoon and made my way to the hospital, just one of the many plastic hot spots in the world.

I was checked in by a nurse with the bedside manner of a geriatric schnauzer. I received my first plastic paraphernalia--the bracelet. I was given a "dump" bucket just in case the heavens opened while I was in the waiting room. Thankfully, I was called in quickly and wearily followed the nurse to my room where I somehow managed to get undressed and slip into the longest hospital gown ever. Got into the bed, my vitals were taken, and before I knew it, Nurse Chipperpants hooked me up with my first liter of IV fluids. I did not think to take these bags because I was concentrating more on not vomiting or crapping my pants in public. I do have priorities. I was in and out of sleep & shivering and after a visit from Dr. T, he comes to the educated conclusion that I have a virus. I have my suspicions of the source after I wrote off my coconut noodles from the night before, but all I cared about was eventually wanting to eat again and to get out of the hospital. I had to pee into a cup and I was surpised to see a "pee kit" complete with 2 individually wrapped castile soap wipes and a pee cup with cap AND handle--all contained in a sealed plastic pouch with a plastic label cuff. I was also given a plastic poop tray that fits snugly in between the toilet bowl and the seat. You poop into it and then some magic medical fairy comes to take it away. I did not do this, but the poop tray went into the trash anyway. Nothing I could do. They also served me Sprite in a styrofoam cup with a plastic straw. All of these items (sans poop tray) managed to make it home with me to become a part of my last two weeks of collection.

I drank a lot of Gatorade from plastic and ate many a plastic-wrapped Saltine. I took anti-nausea medication from a plastic pill bottle. When I was sick, I thought, "Jeez, is there any way to just get sick and heal without coming into contact with plastic?"

When you are sick, what kinds of plastics do you feel that you need in order to recover?

With plastics, where is the line between necessity and excess?

How does plastic use vary from person to person? Do men use more or less than women? Adults more or less than children? Chinese more or less than Italian? Urban more or less than rural? Wealthy more or less than poor? Are there any direct correlations between plastic use and education? IQ? culture? age?

Today, I worked at a birthday party for a 6 year old. The party was held on a $6-7 million piece of real estate in Marblehead. This party was catered and decorated with several plastic inflatable marine animals poking their heads out of shrubbery and flowers. As a marine science educator, it was a rare sight to see the elusive "garden dolphin" and "bush orca". Incredible. The driveway was lined with plastic fish balloons and catering staff walked around with the tiniest bottled waters you ever saw. Other than that, tea & lemonade was served in glass, hors d'vours served on tiny paper plates, and paint-your-own-beach-rock party favors. 3 months ago, I was at a Christening party for a local Bahamian family's baby. All drinks were served in plastic cups, food served on polystyrene plates.

Where am I going with this? I don't know.

I guess...sometimes, I find myself sitting in plastic judgement of others (especially the new McDonald's ad campaign on the trains--a photo of one of their McCafe drinks above it reads: "If you were a straw, you would be plastic. And you would be happy.") and then after I am done, I mindlessly order a cherry lime rickey in a plastic cup with lid and straw "because I deserve it."

Sigh. Awareness is a bitch sometimes, but I can't live without her anymore. I need her like a straw needs a McCafe latte.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Weeks 42-45: So said. So done.

Six months gone. Just like that. I came back to the states with an extra duffel bag in tow. I must in community definitely cuts down on my personal plastic consumption over time. However, most of these plastics were shipped in from all over the globe, mainly from the US, UK, and Canada. If I left all of my plastics there, this is the first stop it would make:

This is the trash that has amassed from Sept 1, 2008-June 13, 2009. Waste management is an interesting, how do you say...shit show on small islands? Waste management is really a shit show everywhere in the world, it's usually just a matter of degree.

Sorry for saying "shit" three times.

The Island School & Cape Eleuthera Institute started out on a noble path to stop sending their waste to the open dump in Deep Creek 5 miles down the road. All over campus, there are 25 L green waste barrels with spray painted rims. Red is for incineration, white is for paper, blue is for glass & metal, and I'll be damned if I still don't know what color is for plastics. From there, (and this is where it gets a little hairy and ) the bins are emptied into larger, (50 gal) barrels located in "the bone yard." Now, part of the weekly chore rotation at the CEI includes taking all of the bone yard refuse across the way to the Island School "dump" (pictured above). What would frequently happen is 2-3 folks in a row would opt out of that particular chore with one of the following mind sets:

1) "Eww, it's trash and that should be the interns' job."
2) "If I ignore it, it will go away."
3) "I'm too busy collecting data for blah, blah, blah."

Usually motivated by anger, some folks will rally, get the truck, and drive the bleeping subdivided piles of crap a whopping .2 miles to the other side of campus. Now, some of you sharp folks out there may have noticed that by the time the subdivided piles of crap actually gets to the is, well...dumped. And after I helped unload the garbage one day and saw yogurt containers, soda cans, and cardboard playing in the sandbox together, I started throwing everything into the incinerate bin.

As I like to say, the road to the dump is paved with good intentions...and garbage.

Let me be clear that I completely appreciate the idea behind keeping Island School/CEI waste on site as a daily reminder of the overarching and overwhelming question: "How do we deal with our waste?" So, I am thinking, "This is great! Let's really wrestle with this and show these Island School students that there is no away!" And then came Parents weekend along with an order from up on high to erect a thatched fence to hide the unsightly mess.


So, there she sits...just like Baby in Dirty Dancing...but you know what they say about Baby. I look forward to seeing how long they collect before someone lights a huge fiery inferno of burning, melting, bubbling trash goo. Not that I ever thought about doing that...

Switching gears, it took me a few days to "process" my 454 plastic items that I used from January 15-July 5. For any of you list junkies, here it is:

17 plastic shopping bags
3 6-pack soda rings
1 bulk coffee bag
8 polystyrene containers (I'm still depressed about this one...)
7 Ziploc bags
19 snack bars
2 fruit leather
3 Emergen-C
3 ketchup packets (Chik-Fil-A, Philly airport, cannot have waffle fries without them...)
24 candy wrappers (Woah. Woah...some of these were BITE-size.)
2 cream cheese containers
3 cream cheese seal
9 cookie packages
3 ice cream wrappers
1 milk seal
1 dipping sauce container
1 dipping sauce seal
2 Coke bottles
1 Gatorade bottle
8 chip bags
12 plastic cups
18 lids & caps
8 condiment containers
11 small yogurt containers
4 forks
2 knives
2 spoons
17 straws
1 Edamame bag
42 plasticrap (the ever-unclassifiable objects like ribbon, door handles, and bumper stickers)
1 quinoa bag
2 rice bags
1 pita bag
2 brownie mix bags
1 sugar bag
1 pasta bag
1 raisin bag
2 nut bags (not my former supervisors, but actual bags that hold nuts)
1 trail mix bag
1 hotel key (from the Quality "is unattainable" Inn in Nassau)
1 heartworm pill package (for my dog...)
4 dry good bags
15 cheese packages
1 egg carton
1 side dish container
1 dessert container (Guava Duff from Nassau to be exact)
1 large lid
1 alfalfa sprout container
2 wine wraps
1 bag seal
2 bottle wraps
6 ring seals
2 mushroom containers
2 mushroom wraps
2 cookie roller coaster seats (you know--the packages that cookies "sit" in)
4 plantain bags
1 car door handle (from the accident--I couldn't figure out how to get the entire car back...)
4 water bottles
6 ice bags
4 bread bags
3 shipping bag
7 saran wraps
1 sandwich bag
4 party cup bags
3 misc bags
1 watch package
16 Contacts
1 iPod cover
2 buffer solution packages
1 pair sunglasses
1 pen cap
1 skeletool package
1 rockwool wrap
6 lamination sheet scraps
1 zip tie
1 drill bit package seal
1 sheet set bag
3 toothbrush packages
16 Contact case packages
4 Insteads
4 Instead packages
3 shampoo & conditioner bottles
6 toilet paper wrap
1 aveeno anti-itch cream package
1 razor head pack
2 razor heads
1 Nuvaring
1 Nuvaring package
1 Benadryl package
1 toothpaste tube
1 pill container
4 broken hair clip pieces
1 Band-Aid
6 contact solution seals
1 pill cap
1 toothpaste cap
3 shampoo caps
3 pill packages
1 allergy eye drop container
1 allergy eye drop cap
1 bra (I just hate it and I've had it for 5 years.)
1 Kittery trading post bag


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Weeks 38-41: Did plastic save my life?

As some of you already know, I was in a pretty scary car accident at 10:00 pm on Monday night. I was coming back from an amazing dinner at my favorite restaurant, Tippy's in Governor's Harbor. I was with 3 friends and I was driving until my newly permitted friend asked if she could drive from Rock Sound market to the Cape. I allowed her to do so not realizing that 10 minutes later, she would be undergoing an advanced skill: safely coming out of a hydroplane. Alas, after two severe over corrections with the steering wheel, I found myself hanging upside down and slightly unconscious. I could hear everyone calling my name and trying my darndest to say that I was OK, but the speech part of my brain had temporarily checked out.

My friend unclipped me and I vaguely remember crawling out of the rear window onto the ground. 2-3 cars passed us. I vomitted up what was a lovely dinner of ribs and potatoes. Fare the well blessed pig dinner. I felt much more alert after that, but definitely not all there. The police came before the virtually non-existant emergency services.

So, what does this have to do with the blog? Here are the plastic components that contributed to my incident:
  1. The car, which a friend told me that Found On Roadside Dead, Fix Often Repair Daily are 2 acronyms for Ford. I'm not sure what percentage of this 1990 Ford Explorer was plastic, but I can tell you that I had more than a few premonitions about this car. I should have trusted the bad ju-ju instinct. Do you remember the little red & yellow Fisher-Price cars with the black steering wheel? Yeah, that was our car.
  2. seatbelt--allowed me the luxury of hanging upside down securely
  3. sunglasses--either protected or contributed to my severe head bang
  4. iPhone--enabled us to call for help and stay in communication with the Island School medical staff for updates.
  5. Bic pen--allowed the police officer to start filling out a police report before checking to see of anyone was severely injured. I still want to hit that guy. I should have puked on his shoes.
  6. chair--allowed me to sit down while the doc to took my vitals
  7. stethescope, eye light thingy, blood pressure cuff--vital signs
  8. Bic pen--allowed the doctor to fill out a report
  9. toothbrush--allowed me to clean my mouth out after the token "I have a concussion" vomit.
So, did plastic save my life or did (does) it enable me to engage in more risky activities such as driving a vehicle? I realize that plastic, in many ways, has improved the safety of driving, but hasn't it also enabled vehicles to be produced more "economically" and therefore more abundantly, leading to a greater accessibility to people all over the world even in places such as Eleuthera with virtually NO emergency services or advanced life support systems?

I don't know what I'm getting at...maybe this is mild brain damage, but does plastic give us the illusion of safety?

Whatever the case, I am thankful to be alive to write another post.

Thanks for all of your well wishes...I am also thankful for all the amazing people and relationships in my life--thank goodness relationships, life, and love are NOT made of plastic.

Weird. See the infamous explorer in the background? I took this photo not too long after my premonition about this vehicle...self portrait inside my polyplastic tent on a solo camping trip in Rainbow Bay.