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, 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