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.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Weeks 28-30: Leave a Trace

Two weeks ago, I had the honor of going to Jacks Bay on a community outreach with the Island School and Deep Creek Middle School students. I was asked to come along because of my interest in plastics and I jumped at the opportunity. The activity involved splitting up into groups of 2-3 and combing the beach for plastics. With their collections, the students built either something “practical” or “ornamental” in 15 minutes. Once the creations were completed, I or Professor D was hailed to document their creations through video. We then took photographs of the deconstruction of their creations. As Dr. D said, “it’s kind of like a twisted version of the Leave No Trace." Most students enjoyed taking everything apart, but a few felt a little moral twitch about throwing the trash back on the beach.

Plastigirl was my first subject. She was made from various 5-gallon bucket pieces, a shampoo bottle right arm and a soda bottle left arm, polypro rope & netting legs and a broken barrel stomach in which you could see her stomach contents. If anyone exhibits the cliché, “you are what you eat”, its Plastigirl. Her stomach was filled with more polypro rope, zip ties, a fancy shampoo bottle cap, and part of an ice cream tub.
Then came Mr. Person. Mr. was a simple man, with an F-style jug head, bottle cap eyes & nose, and a glow stick mouth…I feel a reprise of “Frosty the Snowman” coming on. Homemade funnel ears, bucket piece arms & legs, and a plastic necktie made from heaven only knows what.
The next group created a game. There were 3 containers each with different diameter openings and the object was to get various plastic scraps into the containers, with the smaller bottle openings earning more points than the larger ones.

And then there was the waterfall made from 2 broken pieces of the same lawn chair delicately balanced on the bottom half of an olive oil jug. Minimalist, balanced, thoughtful, and oh-so-versatile (they informed me that you didn’t have to send water down the fall…you could send sand, marbles, ducklings, or whatever gravity would allow). It also travels well.

I then journeyed down the beach to Plasti-city. This city didn’t have much, but it had the essentials: a baseball field and a place to wash your hair. As you can see from the photo, there was plenty of netting to catch fly balls.

Another group created a plastic dog and put it in a cage (because it was being a bad dog). I didn’t have the heart to tell them that wiener dogs don’t always make the best pets.
Anyway, when Dr. D asked them to deconstruct their creation, the students were a bit hesitant. “You mean, you want us to put everything BACK on the beach and in the bushes? Shouldn’t we have a trash can for all of it?” “Nope,” said Dr. D, “I want you to leave everything exactly as you found it.”

So, it got me thinking about deconstruction and the book Cradle to Cradle by Bill McDonough & Michael Braungart. How do we take from the earth with the intention of returning it back in the same shape & form we found it? Why is it taking us so long to turn this shipwreck of a mentality around?

In my dream vacation, I am walking along a beautifully polluted beach with the CEO’s of Sysco, Mattel, Solo, American Plastics, McDonald’s, and all the others. We have a few drinks and we talk about the cradle to grave mentality that has lead to the state of this beach. We talk about this beach and all others that are the proverbial backside of industrial processes. We start out using limited materials from the earth, tinker them into the unnatural, tout their value to the masses, convince ourselves that we cannot possibly survive without Barbie knee pads, then proceed to convince ourselves that we cannot possibly live WITH the Barbie knee pads, dispose of them through a number of ways, and boom…Malibu Beach Barbie. And the earth knows nothing about how to digest Barbie knee pads. So, we talk about how to make our stuff digestible for the earth since these CEO’s & their companies will eventually be responsible for their product when the customer is “done” with it. I know…it’s kind of an intense dream vacation, but we must be dreaming if we think our stuff just disappears into the earth. And there is no vacation from our waste stream.

Can we start tracing our stuff back to its rightful owners; these companies that use their own version of Leave No Trace? Is there a trace of responsibility, ownership, or forethought into the final resting place of their processes or product?


kristi said...

i have been missing your posts, and just the other day i was wondering how you are doing. (feel free to send me an email if you have time, although i have the feeling you are probably busy all the time!).

anyway, what a poignant post. and i love the photo at the top. so much to think about. so overwhelming.


Joshua said...

A perfect posting my love. If only the aforementioned CEOs could spend time reflecting on the culture/mind set they have been reinforcing for the last 100 years. People have so little time to reflect it seems. I'm so glad to know people like you who take the time to help us ALL reflect.
Last night Al Gore reminded us that when the first man stepped on the moon, the majority of the systems engineers at Mission Control who got him there were going on 26 years old. That meant that some eight years earlier when JFK made his famous decree, he was speaking to the hearts and minds of eighteen year olds. I am so comforted that you, Sunnye, are a speaker to the "systems engineers" of tomorrow. May we all learn to live "cradle to cradle".

Vickie said...

Wonderful posts, Sunnye. Can't wait to have you back! One question about the trash walk, however - why didn't the teacher want the kids to throw the stuff away? Why leave it there to become another layer of the Great Pacific Trash Island?