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.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Week 4: Month's End Melancholy

It was hard for me to begin this post. I am tired (in a good way)--embracing my exhaustion and so thankful and filled with joy when I look at my map showing all the knowplastic readers. I tried to express my joy to the students in Mazatlan--joy for their interest, their growing awareness along with mine. I love the input from earthlygirl about the deeper issues around leaning on corn for fuel, food, and "product". So I was sitting here at the keyboard for quite sometime staring blankly through my plastic eyes into the plastic monitor and I got up out of my chair, went to the bookshelf in the living room and honed in on a book of poetry by Mary Oliver called Why I Wake Early. I did not know what she wanted to offer me, but I knew it was in that book somewhere, and after a minute of flipping pages and scanning titles, I smiled and ran back to the computer to share one with you. It might be the longest title of a poem ever...

What Was Once the Largest Shopping Center in Northern Ohio Was Built Where There Had Been a Pond I Used to Visit Every Summer Afternoon
by Mary Oliver

Loving the earth, seeing what has been done to it,
I grow sharp, I grow cold.

Where will the trilliums go, and the coltsfoot?
Where will the pond lilies go to continue living
their simple penniless lives, lifting
their faces of gold?

Impossible to believe we need so much
as the world wants us to buy.
I have more clothes, lamps, dishes, paper clips
than I could possibly use before I die.

Oh, I would like to live in an empty house,
with vines for walls, and a carpet of grass.
No planks, no plastic, no fiberglass.

And I suppose sometime I will.
Old and cold I will lie apart
from all this buying and selling, with only
the beautiful earth in my heart.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Week 3: The plastic poop glove

I have a dog who poops on a daily basis. And I know all you dog owners out there (especially ye who obey the 11th Commandment: "Should it not be yer own yard, ye shall pick up after your dog.") Can I get an "amen" for plastic grocery bags? Given the fact that I don't have space to compost Hugo's doo-doo nor do I have the slightest desire to collect 365 bags of poop in my guest room for this experiment, I had to come up with an alternative. In addition, I am not collecting my total garbage effluent, so I needed to come up with an alternative for kitchen garbage bags too.

I got onto and bought my annual supply of kitchen and poop bags for the year. They are not without sin to be sure--they are made from corn which is technically better than a human-made polyethylene terepthalate, but I have no idea where the corn comes from. The product is "BioBag" and they claim to use non-GMO starches and a material known as Mater-Bi which is a trademarked product of an Italian company called Novamont. I went to, but was not able to activate a lot of their links, so wasn't able to learn too much about it. On the box, it says it is a product of Norway. The company will only source corn from countries that are GMO-free, so that rules out acquiring a US corn supply. Alas, the bags make a long journey of approximately 3,500 miles (guesstimating from Oslo). They may be able to claim that no polyethylene is used in the production of the bags. So then...what--their machines to fabricate the bags run on biofuels and contain absolutely no plastic parts? And what about transport? That's a lot of fossil fuels trailing behind that 18-wheeler dashboard and plastic-coated cockpit. One step at a time, I guess.

This brings me to my ultimate justification for the time being. Most of the garbage in Boston goes to an incinerator in Ware, MA. So, I would rather have corn smoke rather than plastic smoke billowing out. However, this justification has expired because I am in Beverly and have yet to discover where our trash and recycling goes. If it goes to a landfill, I'm not sure it matters either way since corn and plastic and everything else are mummified rather than broken down in order to protect our groundwater supplies. So, how do I keep the poop out of the bags all together? Well, I have known about pet waste composters for a few years now and would LOVE to know if anyone has had first hand experience with these. I found a good step-by-step on how to make your own here. However, my issue, like many in the Northeast is that I live in a multi-family (aka, multi-opinionated) dwelling. What seems like a fantastic idea to me may likely raise the eyebrows and tempers of my neighbors. Therefore, until I get land of my "own" I will stick with BioBag unless anyone else has any suggestions.

I'll close with 2 questions: How much more resourceful and innovative would we be if we were forced to deal with all of our waste where we live and work? How would you change your habits if you went from NIMBY to YIMBY?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Week 2: An eye for plastic

Jeepers, creepers--I can't see out my peepers. It's a wonder I don't have more bruises from running into things (which I tend to do regularly). I envy the bats with their fancy-pants echolocation. I'm more like a mole, with my pseudo-eyes serving as a set of photoreceptors. So, I remedy this with plastic contact lenses and my plastic/glass spectacles.

Reportedly, da Vinci is credited with the first concept sketches of contact lenses in the early 1500's--he was interested in how the cornea acts when you stick your head in water. Anyway, long story short--folks experimented with liquid tubes & horse collagen capsules... surely poking a lot of eyes out in the process. Then almost 400 years later, a German glassblower named Muller and a physiologist named Fick made the first glass contact lenses (they were brown, ick). Fick tried them out on rabbits and then on himself and put some dextrose in between the glass & the cornea. Polymethyl methacrylate (Plexigas) comes along on the 1930's and by 1949, the first lenses were developed that you could wear for 16 hours at a time. The FDA approved the first soft lenses in 1971. In 1987, disposable contact lenses became available, and around that same year, I realized that it wasn't normal to keep asking my friend in history class what was written on the blackboard.

It's hard to believe that I have been inserting plastic in my eyes for 21 years. Granted, my plastic lenses don't take up too much room on this earth, but I did some rough caluclations on collective contact lens use and it's a little disturbing.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Week 1: Medicine & Mascara

A friend at work suggested I come clean about something. And I agree. To be sure, I am a "reductionist" (if I may pilfer this word for a new definition) in that I already avoid buying plastic when I can. I am not one of those who feels "good" when I toss something into the recycling bin because the garbage mentality is still the same: out of sight, out of mind. It doesn't keep me from thinking about my consumption. It only helps ease the blow of throwing stuff out & most of us really don't know for sure if our recycling is just being mixed with the trash in the end. It happens--don't kid yourself. So, just keep in mind that this collection is coming from a person who is already a little plastiphobic.

All that said, I'm still a little shocked by my plastic collection over the past 7 days (see photo). I was trying to multiply the pile by 52 and I started sweating a little. (What the bleep am I doing?)
It appears that most of my plastic consumption this week came from my food choices and only one item (sunglasses) was not packaging of some sort (see photo).

This week got me to thinking...about medicine & mascara. With my grandfather in the hospital in his last days and all the other people who have been to hospitals, what kind of experience would it be without plastic? I think about the time I was rushed to the hospital in the Marshall Islands due to severe dehydration, and I can't help but wonder what kind of life I would be living if the needle for my IV didn't come out of one of those super sanitary plastic packs. I mean, plastic has done wonders for safety in the medical field, right?

And then there's mascara. On my Jetblue flight from Austin to Boston, I forgot to fill up my trusty water bottle between security and the gate. A 4 hour flight with no water? I succumbed to the 6 oz. water bottle they offered (from an imaginary source known as Tap Springs) as I couldn't see myself sneaking off to the bathroom to drink from the tiny pump sink. I waved off the cute little bags of snacks & cookies. It's just so hard to say "no thanks" when they shove it gently in your face. And then, just when I thought the temptation was over, a sweet flight attendant smiled and handed me a complimentary plastic package holding a pink plastic tube of...mascara. That's right--the dude handed me make-up. Does anyone know what that's all about?

I'll end with one last story. Today I went to a popular coffee shop, ordered an apple bran muffin & a coffee with no lid (I had forgotten my mug). The happy barista frowned apologetically and informed me that he was required to put a lid on the cup to protect both of us from burning ourselves. He chirped a quick joke: "This is (coffee shop name), not Hooters--we don't go topless here!" (When did Hooters go topless?) I laughed & sighed "OhhKaay" and then he put the coffee on the bar, faked like he was going to put the lid on, winked at me, and threw the lid in the garbage with an "oops!" (Sigh.) I thought about asking him to fish it out for me, but I wanted to be able to show my face in there again, so I shrugged and walked out--topless and all.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sonny Skies

So here I am at 30,000 feet scribbling my first post on a barf bag-not exactly where I thought I would be on the kick-off of this year with knowplastic. I had grand plans to present my current plastic inventory and wow you with my categorization skills, but that all went by the way side when I found out that my grandpa, Sonny Warriner passed away. So here I sit writing with a plastic pen on a plastic tray table and wondering how much longer this flight would seem without the luxury of all this plastic. Next time you fly, do a visual plastic inventory... It's pretty overwhelming. It's interesting because one of my first introductions to plastic was through my grandpa when he taught me how to fish. The catch of the day was usually perch, which congregated around the lakehouse dock in Granbury, Texas. And this sweet memory that I often revisit was made possible by that plastic wonder known as fishing line. Between the worms and the fish it is no big surprise that I am both a worm farmer and an educator at an aquarium. I guess neither of us really knew how a simple outdoor activity would powerfully guide my future. So thank you Grandpa...for everything-especially for letting me share your name.
Love, Sunnye

Field Collection:
3 straws
1 single serving chip bag
1 fork
3 pocket rocket wrappers