It’s been over 50 years since Mr. McGuire pulled Ben aside in the movie “The Graduate” to give him advice for his future career. He told Ben, “I want to say one word to you. Just one word – plastics.” That was his message to the next generation. And he was right, the future was plastic, so much so that we are drowning in it today.
Since plastic is a relatively new product, no one knows just how long it takes for plastic to decompose and exactly what toxins it may or may not release as it does so. Decomposition estimates range from 50 years to hundreds of years. One known danger exists to marine life that have been found dead after eating plastics.
Even if plastic posed no danger to the environment, our landfills overflow with it. Apparently we make much more of it than we can possibly reuse by recycling.
In quite a few American cities, sucking on a plastic straw is frowned upon or downright illegal. Obviously banning straws alone won’t solve any adverse effects plastic may have on the planet. Omitting straws from your drink or using an alternative may cause little inconvenience. But just how much plastic can we live without?
K-cups — I use these along with a reusable K-cup basket. I’ve heard rants about the volume of waste these cause. Fair enough, a conveinence I could live without.
Bottled water — Not just for the athletically inclined gym goer. Videos of every crisis situation show truckloads of bottled water being delivered to parts of the world suffering disasters such as hurricanes, wars, or disease.
Food packaging — So much food is sold in plastic. We may bring reusable tote bags to take home our purchases but will we also bring reusable storage containers to the store to scoop out food out of bins and take home? Too many people, too little time. Besides our litigious society would find multitudes of lawsuits if anyone brings in dirty containers and illnesses spread.
Computers — Computers form the lifeline for every business on earth. And letting go of a smart phone is nearly impossible for most people. Can we do without these plastic-encased treasures? I thought not.
Medical Equipment — Tubing, injections, gloves, prescription bottles and more are used once and thrown out. Will we risk disease by trying to sterilize and reuse these items?
Disposable Diapers — I don’t know if working parents can wash cloth diapers anymore. The daycare staff only want the disposable ones. And besides the hot water, soap, and bleach used to wash cloth diapers also comes with an environmental impact.
Tampons — Many come with plastic inserters. Lose the plastic. Maybe a menstrual cup (also plastic). Or maybe go back to rags and rewash them (hot water, soap, bleach problem again). We could go way back and segregate menstruating women into tents again.
Plastic is our life. Eliminating plastic straws may not put much of a dent in our plastic addiction. But eliminating a much larger percentage of plastic can alter the modern world into an unrecognizable one. Change happens, new inventions appear and once the box is opened what comes out can’t be closed in anymore.
The modern world is ambiguous. Technology is both savior and killer. But you wouldn’t know this from the social media rants that insist the world is black and white, right and wrong. The one-dimensional characters of the old morality plays no longer define our world. The personification of pure good and pure evil forces fighting to claim a human soul, a throwback to medieval times, no longer holds water. Straw or no straw.
Does anyone remember the song by the Monkees, “Only Shades of Gray? (Every time I hear a Monkees song now I am surprised at how much I like their music, laugh if you must. I can’t resist inserting one song here.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SubpzqswJRE
Preventing the world from being overrun by plastic won’t come easy. It won’t happen willingly and without pain. More than likely, change will come when the oil needed for the production of plastic is depleted.
The future may hold legends of the good old days of plastic and fuel-powered machines being retold to a younger generation. At that point, with the removal of a good chunk of life-changing and life-saving technologies, the world population will surely have dwindled to far fewer, hardier humans. Science could follow the same path as the dead gods.