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.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Week 16: Tripping the Lactide Fantastic

In the words of Huey Lewis & the News, I want a new drug. I believe I have found one in Polylactic Acid. PLA and other "green plastics" have been steady back-up singers for the plastics industry diva. In fact, they were around when the diva was still in diapers. So, don't call it a come back. They've been here for years.

Celluloid for photographic film and flammable billiard balls, whale baleen for corset ribs and umbrella handles, and soy for steering wheels and dashboards each had their 15 minutes of market fame until that silly old dinosaur juice was discovered as the source of a whole new kind of synthetic wonder drug. It goes without saying that I am relieved that we're using synthetic polymers for umbrella handles and billiard balls rather than sacrificing whales & elephants for such luxuries. However, I've still got this itch that I can't scratch. Asking first, "How can we maintain the products & services with new materials & methods?" is easier than addressing the deeper questions of "How are these products & services being recirculated into natural cycles?" or (gasp), "How can we phase these products & services out of our lives completely?"

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Boloco; this great little Burrito chain that is part of the Green Restaurant Association. I usually just get a burrito to go, but I had a lunch meeting AND I forgot my trusty mason jar of water. Parched, I decided to suck it up and get a plastic cup of root beer. I finished my meeting and stuffed the empty cup into my bag. After lamenting that the ephemeral root beer fix wasn't worth the cup, my friend gleefully informed me that the cup was made from corn. I inhaled with excitement and experienced what I call the bioplastic high. The mindless, numbing satisfaction of tossing my trash and then running free, empty-handed & headed through my guiltless imaginary corn field.

My name is Sunnye, and I'm a corn-a-holic. It's been 2 hours since my last drink.

The funny thing about alternatives is that sometimes, that's all they are. And while the practice of diversifying the way we think about and do things is an honorable path, I wonder if some alternatives to the traditional begin to resemble sidewalks in the suburbs...

And then there's the politics sandwiched between each and every one of these simplified steps...

In a 2006 story in Smithsonian Magazine (yet another fantastic piece by Elizabeth Royte), PLA is crafted into a double-edged sword. It may use less energy to produce than something like PET, but what is it really doing to address our to-go-cup addiction?

The Corn is my Shepherd; I shall not want...any less than I did when I used regular plastic.

I know...I'm a real stick in the mud, but I'm sincerely struggling with the long term intention of bioplastics. I ain't sayin' they're bad, but I ain't sayin' they're good either. I am officially on the fence and that's all I have to say about that...for now.

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