Just One Word: Plastics

When Mr. McGuire gave Benjamin Braddock (The Graduate, 1967) the titular advice of this post, I laughed along with the rest of the audience. McGuire goes on to predict, “There is a great future in plastics.” We now know that future is estimated to last anywhere from ten to one thousand years.

According to CBS Sunday Morning’s cover story Piling Up: Drowning in a Sea of Plastics  on August 5, about 70% of our plastic waste ends up in dumps or landfills. Additionally between five and twelve million metric tons of plastic enters our oceans annually. It will eventually breakdown into smaller and smaller pieces over the years, but it will never biodegrade.

A 2017 National Graphic report indicates that 79% (6.3 billion tons) of plastic in landfills becomes “free-floating” waste. The United States alone is responsible for 327 billion plastic bags each year in the ocean. CBS references the World Economic Forum’s prediction that our oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050. I’m not laughing anymore, Mr. McGuire.

I know I will never be able to avoid using all plastic products, but for the past month, I’ve made more environmentally conscious buying decisions. I’ve shopped with reusable grocery bags for several years, but now I am attempting to eliminate all nonessential plastic from my purchases. I buy loose mushrooms rather than those packed in plastic and Styrofoam. As much as I love cherry tomatoes, I’ve stopped buying the ones packed in little plastic domes. I love the variety pack of mini red, yellow, and orange sweet peppers. But since they are sold only in prepackaged plastic bags, I’ve discontinued buying them.

Avoiding redundant plastic at check-out isn’t easy. Cashiers can slap already packaged items into a plastic bag before sending them on to my reusable bag in the blink of an eye. Excited to find cherry tomatoes in an open cardboard container at Whole Foods Market, I popped a pint into my cart. At checkout, the cashier dumped them into a plastic bag faster than a flea jumps on a dog.

Last week, for the first time, I managed to avoid all plastic packaging and bags on my trip to the supermarket. One of my purchases was a pack of light-weight mesh, reusable produce bags. They were the last item the cashier scanned. She held them up, turned to me, and asked, “Want these in a plastic bag?”

Kermit was correct. “It’s not easy being green.”