A harried Greenmom wonders if she's the first parent to ever order her kids to go clean their rooms just so she can get twenty minutes or so of peace and quiet to herself...
I think about plastic kind of a lot.
I think about how it's generally Not A Good Thing, and then I look around my house at how much of it I have around here.
For one thing, I have only really been working on the Green Thing for a few years, and there was a lot in my house before. For another, I honestly have mixed feelings about the Green mantra that Plastic Is Evil, All Must Be Eradicated From Our Lives (Beth Terry's fabulousness notwithstanding).
Is the problem plastic itself, or is the real problem cheap plastic that it almost universally treated as "throwaway"?
I'm asking this not to be provocative or start any arguments--it's a serious question, and I have a lot more research to do before I can come to any conclusion. And I have not completely discounted the possibility that part of this is an apologetic for my own use of plastic in those areas where I can't bring myself to give it up. Because, sadly, in the world today, we're not really presented with many of those happy choices between The Good Choice and The Wrong Choice. It's not a Star Wars movie where some wise and adorable green wrinkly Muppet-character will step up and pronounce sagely, "The path to the Dark Side this is!" We are faced, every day, with choices between awful-for-the-planet and maybe-one-shade-less-awful-for-the-planet-but-who-can-be-sure.
Where plastic is concerned, a few things are fairly clear: disposable plastic water bottles, not to put too fine a point on it, suck. It's a case where there is absolutely no question--petroleum-derived energy/consumption used to produce something that will hold something that's just as easy to get and carry in a permanent container--dumb. pointless. The Dark Side This Is. The whole thing about BPA and other endocrine disruptors in plastic products--also pretty clear, dangerous, not a good idea. Plastic grocery bags? Please.
But then--okay, I'll come Out and confess one of my own lingering-plastic-use areas, the one that frankly led to this post. For example, Saturday night the two adult Easter Bunnies came home from a 3 hour church service exhausted. They paid the babysitter, confirmed that the children were asleep, and proceeded to go about their work. That work involved going into the closet downstairs and pulling out the (plastic) ziploc bag filled with (plastic) empty hinged eggs, filling them with a piece of chocolate or a few jelly beans, and hiding them all over the house.
The chocolate and jelly beans should have been free trade and all-natural; I'm afraid they were not. (My husband went shopping for them, and while he's an absolutely amazing partner and a great guy all around, he is still a green work in progress.) But those plastic eggs, in the exact same ziploc bag, have lived in that closet since we moved into this house, and in the closet of another house for several years before that. Every year I quietly rescue them after they are emptied, and every year they go back into that closet and come out again, and I anticipate that this will continue for as long as the Easter Bunny visits our home. Obviously we bought them before Green was much of a concern, but I have to admit, even now, they don't cause me a lot of sleep loss. And the joy and excitement in our house as those brightly-colored orbs are discovered is pretty unparalleled.
I have a few more plastic-use areas that occasionally give me guilt pangs, but honestly not enough to make me stop. My ziploc bag addiction is fairly well-documented, and it will probably be the last of my disposable plastic areas to go--it's the ziplocs that facilitate most of my freezing-in quantity cooking (like when I make little individual half-cup muffin things of frozen cooked beans or broth to store for later use), and I really do rinse and re-use them whenever I can and until they fall apart. I know I could be better that way; I'm trying. My kids' "waste-free" lunches are only waste-free because I send them with sandwiches in Wrap-N-Mats (fabric and plastic) and other foods in the little re-usable plastic containers you can get at the store. Whenever plastic spoons sneak their way into the house, I start sending those to school with the kids too, with instructions that they bring them back home for washing and re-use. We have plastic flashlights that have been around since well before we got married, plastic Legos that I used to play with when I was a kid and which my kids still enjoy, a plastic colander to drain the pasta, the stuff is everywhere. (And then there's my computer, on which I'm now typing...)
And when I feel this urge to just get it all out of my house and life...I think of when I was a kid, and my hippie parents were on board with the "buy brown eggs because they are more natural than white eggs," a very popular and pervasive "brown is natural and good; white is refined and unnatural and bad" meme at the time. And we were so sure. We now know that brown vs white is absolutely irrelevant where eggs are concerned, and that different kinds of birds just produce different-colored eggs. Brown bread/grains better than white? Absolutely. Eggs? Nope, no real difference there. We were asking the wrong questions. And I start thinking again...
Is there a line to be drawn somewhere between "acceptable" use of plastic and the kind that's wasteful and harmful to the planet? (Er...that is...more wasteful and harmful to the planet than the alternatives?) And are there any resources out there to help us tell exactly how to compare a plastic item's use and footprint versus that of something non-plastic used the same way? For example--and I ask this as someone who does use a stainless steel water bottle--how many times would I need to use my metal bottle, considering the process of obtaining the metal, processing it, and creating the bottle itself (we could also count transport, but that would apply to the water too), to equal the carbon footprint of the same number of disposable plastic bottles? I'm seriously curious. What kind of resources went into the making of my nylon recycled PET re-usable grocery sacks? How many times would I need to use those before they equal what was used to make one of those ridiculous thin plastic throwaway ones? (Okay, maybe 5, since it takes 5 plastic ones to equal what my 1 nylon one can carry.) Harder to calculate would be the fact that the disposable ones don't break down and result in more garbage, so that would have to be figured into the bottom line...but I assume petroleum or coal or other non-renewable resources are used in the production of a lot more than just plastic (although admittedly it's different, since plastic is made from petroleum), so where is the difference, really?
So...does anyone have any thoughts, or sites, or calculators to offer here? (I'm sending a note to Beth at My Plastic Free Life; I would love it if she felt like weighing in...) Any other thoughts or perspectives I'm completely missing?
I am ready to be convinced, seriously. I don't have any great love for plastic, I just keep going 'round and 'round on the same issue, and I guess I need some new data if I'm going to head in any brave new direction. So, as usual, I throw it out to y'all: Is plastic evil? Or can its effects be mitigated?