We often treat waste and recycling as issues distinct from the items contained within the packaging. Especially the plastic bubble that allows us to see the product, and is such a bother to remove when we get it home.
I bought a package of stainless steel straws the other day. They came, with a brush to clean them, in a plastic shrink-wrap I needed a sharp knife to cut open. The plastic, devoid of a recycling label, went in the trash. When we buy something, we also pay for the non-recycleable packaging we toss in our trash. In afterthought, I reckoned I should have left the waste at the store.
See all the Made in China stuff on department store shelves. Part of the price we pay at the cash register is for the packaging China now refuses to take back, packaging we then must pay someone to haul away to a landfill.
What if we bought stuff and unpacked it right there in the store, and left our “trash” at the register. Unfortunately, if stores allowed us to do that, they still would charge us for the employees hired to package the stuff, which in the end would be added to a landfill. But maybe the stores would use their size to make something productive happen to the waste that right now millions of unorganized individuals cannot.
Often, I enter the store with a large rucksack, and filled it up as I shop. At the counter, I unload the bag, and as the cashier tallies my purchases, put the stuff back in the sack.
I see no purpose to store-branded plastic bags. Their only purpose if for customers to leave carrying a plastic billboard declaring to the world, “I bought stuff there!”
When I get home, that plastic bag gets stuffed into another plastic bag that, when the containing bag is filled, I hope is recycled into something else I might buy.
I don’t blame China and India and other Asian nations for refusing to take our trash. I blame them for foisting it on us in the first place. And us for inventing it.
Our ability to compartmentalize would be good if it helped us see problems as a part of a bigger puzzle, to solve problems in small pieces rather than be overwhelmed by the enormity of needed solutions. We buy stuff at the Wal-Mart, and think of the trash only once a week when we drag the flotsam to the curb, from whence a large truck hauls it away to a landfill.
We rarely see a landfill. Like other industrial blight, landfills generally are established out of sight of our normal travels. Even when they are near a highway, they generally appear more as pristine curiosities past which we cruise in electronically controlled air conditioned comfort, noting on some level the high mountain of waste but ignoring the connection between the mountain and our curb.
A turtle inhaling a plastic straw is made for television, but there is a much worse mass of plastic in our oceans – floating islands degrading, if at all, into microscopic plastic pellets, like sandpaper grit, to be ingested by the critters that inhabit our oceans and become part of our food supply.
We might well think of turtles and plastic straws. We also might think about the plastic in which the non-plastic straws were packaged.
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