We anchor in the afternoon off Lynyard Cay. With the first sandy beach of our trip beckoning, I am quick to get into the water. Uncharacteristically, I huff and puff after a short swim to the bow, where I hold myself against the anchor snubber to breathe in the splendor. I settle my breathing and swim to shore.
To the west, nimbus clouds of many distinctions block the waning sun. A green-black ribbon of land splits the sky from the sea. To the north, a spit of green juts westward, a stand of trees testifying to the prevailing westerly winds. Beyond that, clusters of shadowy islands litter the horizon. I know from our approach, the island is inhabited. As we passed an isolated compound made up of two over-sized houses, we joked it was Mic Jagger’s estate.
To the south, a nearby headland dotted with habitation caps the sea. Buildings shimmer brilliant white against a green lushness I am unaccustomed to seeing.
At the terminus of the sand, I join Mark who has appeared under the shade of a large mangrove fruited with a collection of jetsam marked with dates and cheery messages from sailors. Nearby, a ceramic toilet, throne-like, is situated as if a castaway should preside over the display and the anchorage. It is an oddly harsh symbol of man’s nature in the otherwise densely natural landscape. As I stand reading the messages on the floats, a pea-sized hermit crab transits my toes. I lift my foot to show the delicate creature to Mark, then walk back to the water’s edge.
A bagel shaped, nubby, black sea creature washes up at my feet. I squat to inspect, flipping the animal over to scrutinize a greenish center. I call to Mark, looking toward the hanging garden of buoys. He is no where to be seen but Emily is swimming toward the beach. She and a starfish arrive simultaneously.
I pick up the stone-like starfish.
“Look what came ashore!” I joke. We walk ankle deep in the sea toward each other taking long neanderthal strides. Leaning forward we lurch through water we churn with sand into a milky white. Holding the star’s underside toward Emily its stiff points curl magically toward me. Mark suddenly reappears as Emily strokes the creatures underbelly prompting sticky tentacles to protrude and blindly arc around their tiny reach. The star’s arms are pointed back at me. Its center is deeply puckered.
Mark laughs and says, “Look out, his stomach may come out his mouth.”
As if in cahoots with Mark, the star widens the orifice.
“Eeeuew!” Quickly I lay it in a Sasquatch-sized foot print Mark has left in the wet sand.
“I walked to the Atlantic.” Mark boasts.
“How far was it?” I ask, thinking I have no intention of making the trek in my tender bare feet.
“Allll the way across the island” she says with a wide gesture. “… about 200 yards. Come on.” he says more to Emily, then looks at me. “Let’s go look.”
“I don’t have shoes.” I state the obvious and add, “My feet are so tender.”
“You’ll be fine. It’s mostly sand.” he says assuringly as we start up the narrow path past the motley monument to cruising.
The sound of the Atlantic, feral and turbulent, bellows from just beyond our view as we tramp up the sandy trail. Waves crashing on an exposed coral shelf boom, then the sea seethes as water strains in retreat. The brush thins to reveal raw sugar colored sand trapped above the reef by the wrath of the ocean.
Craggy gray coral spires are cached with pools of tepid seawater, evidence of a retreating tide. The raw majesty is blemished with tangled tendrils of gaily colored fishing net knitted into the sharp rocks. Bright blue tangles, yellow knots and red bights of polypropylene punctuate the seascape. Scanning the scene, I realize I expected the litter. I easily accept it, impotent to change the fact that it exists. Casting my eyes toward a wave washing up to my bare feet, I step back as a wave deposits an orange and white toothbrush. It looks newer than the one I have at home. My flesh, my bones will be dust before all evidence of this discarded tool is gone from the earth. Another wave buries it a bit in the sand, then skitters seaward.
Ashamed, I walk away.
It is nearly May, almost five months past when I should have posted a recap of my 2009 plastic aversion adventure. I still feel deflated from not making my seemingly doable ten pound goal. Even though I did not have a valid way of measuring what was not brought home, surely I didn’t reach ten pounds. Just a guess — it was more like eight. The truth is, as soon as the new year began I splurged. In January and February I indulged myself with a new pair of running shoes (lots of plastic), a big jug of vinegar (plastic to save a few cents), new tooth brush, hair clips, new CPU (computer power back up). I even used a few plastic bags from the grocery store rather than walking back to my car to retrieve a paper one. I had pent up desire for plastic which I lavishly indulged once the year was over.
Regardless, today I easily pass by boxes of baby greens without longing. The heads or bundled greens are actually, by and large fresher. And I have been lucky enough to pick lettuce from my own garden. It doesn’t get fresher than that!
Our tortillas and bread still come in plastic bags instead of from our oven, (shock!) but the bags are reused until they are truly used. As a matter of fact, now when poly is tossed in our house it is broken, unwashable or unusable, in other words garbage. Lately a row of matching glass jelly jars, with red gingham lids are kept near my fridge. They’re much better for most leftovers than ziplock bags and I reuse the plastic tubs from yogurt and cottage cheese several times. I can’t imagine ever buying a bit of plastic to use in my kitchen again. Metal, ceramic, glass or wood is almost always the better choice and I wrap my occasional sandwich to go with old-fashioned wax paper.
Regardless, five months after my planned finish, there is little doubt I have made my ten pound goal. Without a doubt the year-long experience has forever changed how I view and consume plastic. I’ll won’t use as much. Being cognizant of unnecessary or misused plastic I know I can avoid most of it without undue sacrifice or inconvenience. For that reason, I’m glad I tried and learned to ask when it comes to plastic, “How long will this be used?” and “Is that long enough?” I discovered the truth is, plastic it is mostly garbage waiting to be.
Ofttimes while watching a movie I figure out what is going to happen well before it does, but watch anyway, hoping to be surprised. In life we do the same. We know some unpleasantness is bound to happen, yet we cling to optimism.
A while back, while driving home with Ed, I told him I thought Diane was done. I shared with him how she had sounded so tired and ready to give in to cancer. I noticed at that moment, as he paused for consideration, he more firmly gripped the wheel, moving both hands purposefully outward. It was odd for him to have such a strict posture behind the wheel and his terse reply, “She will die if she has that attitude,” was an echo of his physical bristling. It was as if he had perversely misunderstood the script. As if he had some how defied the direction of “terminal.” I noticed his hands, like a stunt driver’s spaced widely apart balancing the effort of steering with commanding intent, while his words adeptly swerved around cancer and its wreckage.
As soon as we got home we squabbled, in pretense, over a piece of mail. I was angry at him for being naive, pretending, acting, badly. I expect he was distressed at my pessimism and frustrated nothing could be done.
If you follow my yammerings, you know Diane passed away, not long after I foretold it. You may have also noticed I haven’t posted for quite a long time, just “Ode to Diane.” I have not written about cancer, which I wanted vanquished from my consciousness, nor have I made a final analysis of my year of avoiding plastic. Both subjects had unhappy endings.
I didn’t care to share that I couldn’t stop cancer from its carnage. You already know that. I didn’t care to write that even though I would like to convince the world we should change our wasteful ways, I was incapable of reaching my own seemly easy goals. I feel a need to remove the mask, tone down the theatrical bravado and expose that I’m just me, a little 110-pound, middle-aged woman, audacious enough to hope I can do something of import. I recognize my feeble push is ineffective against such big problems, but mostly I choose to ignore how implausible it is that I can change the world even in the smallest way.
I don’t like confess to resorting to prayer to cover for my human shortcomings, even though I do it daily. Recently, while thinking of the loss of Diane I dusted off an old standard and gave it a whirl. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The prayer has not been answered. I don’t expect it ever can be. I’m too stubborn to realize I can’t change the unchangeable, much less recognize the immovable, but the pondering of my wee influence on the Sisyphean has not reinforced any feelings of futility. Indeed it has pulled the curtain to renewed optimism. Perhaps the prayer helped me realize I can not change many things. I can only hope to change — something. That simply is all I can do, and that is enough.
If I had a clue it would be so hard to shed 10 pounds of plastic, I wouldn’t have resolved to do it. Now, after 10-plus months, a 10 pound reduction seems unreasonable and unattainable. I have not done the math, but I don’t think I can make it, unless I move to a deserted island. Even then, recollecting the gyre, the reason I vowed to do this thing, tons of plastic might wash ashore.
Today, I only left my house to run and to check the mail, yet bits of plastic came to me like metal flakes to a magnet. I swear I attract it.
Returning from my run, I saw each house on my street had a paper flung onto the drive. “Oh boy, a crossword!” When did they quit using rubber bands for news papers and stuff them in plastic bags? I loomed over mine for a moment and considered leaving the paper and the bag in the driveway. It would not go away, all my neighbors got a paper too, so they had no reason to take it off my hands. I took it inside to read cranky letters to the editor and look for the crossword puzzle. I pulled the bag off, tied it in a French knot and put it with the dwindling stash of plastic bags in my cupboard. I’ll reuse it for something.
Mid morning the doorbell rang. I froze at my desk, breathless for a moment, then slunk to carefully peer around the corner, knowing there might be an annoying solicitor peeking back at me through the door’s side window, or I would hear a delivery truck roll away. It was the later. I took in a breath, opened the door and picked up a FedEx envelope left on my doorstep. It had a plastic sleeve to hold an absent airbill, the barcoded shipping label was glued to the front. Even though it was clearly addressed to Ed, I couldn’t resist opening it. He’s been in Ohio and my snooping would save him time and bother when he gets home. (I’m such a thoughtful wife.) I opened it, therefore I take full ownership even though only half of the contents were actually for me. Inside were uniform insignia tapes packed in enough plastic to construct a raincoat. Sixteen baggies to hold sixteen small embroidered pieces of cloth tape. Really, I kid you not, each insignia in an individual zipbag! I can’t imagine any second use for the bags which have quarter inch holes drilled at the top for hanging on a display rack, so anything small enough to fit, seeds for instance, will fall out of the hole. I could mail the empties back to the uniform distribution center, or better yet the manufacturer, but chances are they would open my envelope, wonder why some nut mailed them trash and toss them anyway. Oh well.
Mid afternoon I brought in the mail. The November issue of Sailing Magazine came in a plastic bag so the holiday catalog of sailing jewelry could get into my hot little hands. I leaf through it year after year wondering who could possibly afford, and want, a sterling silver monkey’s fist bottle stopper, or an 18 karat gold, open barrel, turnbuckle hinged bracelet. I suppose some yacht owner with a huge wallet and a little tiny brain will be ordering a trinket for Lovie. I myself own six open barrel turnbuckles, none of them for show. Mine are on my boat, made of stainless steel and hold up the mast. I could barely afford them. After marveling at the photos of gleaming excess, I tossed the catalog into the recycle bin and the plastic bag into the trash.
Then I attended to our mundane mail; a credit card application — which we still get, probably because we forgo the turnbuckle bracelets — it came complete with a thin plastic replica of a credit card; and a Travelers Insurance letter with a plastic “priority quote card” glued to it. Both cards embossed with my name went into the trash — identifying me for a millennium as the culprit who threw them away. Damn.
For the month of October. I will estimate an avoidance of 14 ounces of plastic “stuff.”
Because I did so poorly avoiding poly in September, I have put off telling about the results.
First, I took a head-over-heals dismount from my bike, knocking my head, which was thankfully encased in a quality plastic helmet. Wearing a bike helmet surely saved me from a nasty knot on the noggin. Because it is recommended a helmet be replaced after taking a significant blow, I bought a replacement brain-bucket. What I got is very light — 275 grams, or 9.7 ounces — but virtually all plastic. I justified the purchase as a fair trade for prevention of brain injury. Brain damage suffered in a subsequent bike crash — because of a possibly degraded helmet — might be permanent, but only in reference to my head. The plastic helmet will exist on, and on, long after my hopefully mostly intact brain and I are dust. Still, I recalled when my brother was in neurological intensive care, I noted how medical care uses an incredible amount of plastic. I could argue that the helmet purchase, by potentially keeping me out of intensive care, could result in saving oodles of catheter tubes, syringes, splints, etc., so I won’t count my helmet as a plus.
In September I was also busy planning a woman’s sailing event. In spite of my efforts to keep the Ladies’ Day @ the Lake plastic free, I was inundated with poly bags, foam packing peanuts, and other plastic packaging as I received shipments of donated items for event goody bags. While I was very grateful to get so many nice items for our participants, it was a disappointment to see so much plastic packaging used for materials that had no chance of transport damage. Even if a fleet of UPS trucks had run over one particular box, its unbreakable contents would not have crumbled or broken. Another donor offered several dozen plastic thermal cups he wanted to get rid of. He claimed he had them in storage for years. I gladly accepted, plastic or not. Hey, that plastic already existed! I was not consuming, but rather putting to good use what was already there. I printed sleeve inserts (on recycled paper) for the cups. I tried to make them special, in hopes each recipient would use their fantastic, functional cups for the rest of their days, then pass the treasure down to their first-born. Three cases of bottled water were purchased for the event — even though I suggested coolers. I cringed when I saw recycling bins at the venue filling with one-use bottles. I could have insisted, so I’ll take partial ownership, say half liability, or around two pounds of resulting trash.
Putting on a complicated event kept me hopping. When Ed and I hosted nearly twenty folks for dinner after a challenging work day, the evening before, I asked Ed to run to the store to buy a “box” of greens. I didn’t pointedly tell him “Get one of those big PLASTIC containers of salad stuff,” but I didn’t instruct him to get a few heads of lettuce either. He knew my time limitations and brought home the most convenient salad fixing he could muster. I was glad not to have to wash, dry, pick and break fixings for a huge salad. Even though I’ll use the resulting box for storage, I must own up to a few ounces of packaging I really did not want, solely for saving a few minutes of preparation time.
Other than that, I did okay, about the same as August. In total, I will call September a two pound, two ounce, back slide month.
In August, my efforts to reduce my plastic use further has hit a wall, or a sand dune. The tidbits of plastic I never gave a thought to before make up a shifting hump that I can not seem to pass over. I can’t navigate around the mountain of little plastic stuff.
This month I looked for shampoo that comes in a bar but could not find any, so I bought the biggest plastic jug I could find, one without the luxury of a pump dispenser and associated extra material. I could have researched on the net, but I did not, I gave in to laziness and did the easy thing, picking up the jumbo bottle and putting it my grocery cart. The same trip I also bought a giant plastic bottle of sunscreen. I do all sorts of outdoor stuff, know the awful sound of the word “cancer” in reference to my body, and I share sunscreen with Ed, who burns in the moon light. I chalked that purchase up as absolutely necessary. Those were the only two plastic bottles I brought in the house this month. Bottles are not so hard to avoid except for personal items. No bottled soda, no bottled water, no bottled condiments (unless glass is available), easy and doable.
Having eliminated most of the big, obvious plastic waste from my consumption, if I want to do more I am faced with doing without or avoiding small stuff. The caps, tabs, lids, and wraps are like the grains of sand Mr. Service referred to. I have thoroughly congratulated myself for doing without the packaging associated with sliced or grated cheese, ready-made salad dressing, and passing on purchasing new flipflops, but I continued to wink at the juice box with the plastic cap or the Popsicle wrapper. “Unavoidable,” I rationalized. The small stuff is easy to disregard or justify.
The little plastic things fall into my hands like sand slips into a shoe, collecting in tiny annoying piles. I went to my dentist to get a regular cleaning and found myself afterward in my car looking through a plastic bag with a plastic tooth brush inside a plastic bubble mounted to cardboard, a plastic box of floss, a sample of toothpaste in a plastic tube with a plastic lid and a tiny coupon in a small plastic bag. God forbid that coupon be soiled by touching the toothbrush packaging. I need to brush my teeth, and floss. I get big globs…well you don’t need details. My old toothbrush had bristles that looked like Einsteins’ hair and surely it’s not possible to buy a wooden tooth brush with stiff boars hair bristles wrapped in paper anywhere in my neighborhood. The floss — I bet the floss itself is a polymer. It sure seems plastic-like. The box certainly was. I know there are button-like metal floss containers but if you buy such a thing in the store it is boxed in a fist-sized or bigger plastic clam shell, to keep dishonest shoppers from conveniently dropping the tiny package in their pocket as it is eventually intended. This month I watched as Ed bought a large plastic bag of plastic floss bows with picks. He can’t seem to get the knack of the wrap around the fingers floss. It was a choice of many bits of plastic, or Ed with gingivitis. I opted for the plastic and kept my well-flossed mouth shut.
Digging through my recycle bin and trash cans today, for a cursory pre-report accounting, I noticed all the bits; the lids, tags and wrappers I have tried to discount as not mattering much, but I know they do. I just have not figured out how to keep them from collecting around me as I walk through life. Next month, I will shake out my shoes and work on reducing the use of little plastic things.
For the month of August. I will estimate an avoidance of 12 ounces of plastic “stuff.”
My July started out well, I continued to make gains, or rather losses, by sticking to plastic avoidance rigorously. I bought big, heavy blocks of cheese, eliminating wraps for what would have been several smaller packages. Regular Catalina dressing purchases stopped when I concocted an Ed-approved home brew. I was feeling pretty cocky before it happened. I fell off the plastic wagon — in a big way. Ed and I went to Trader Joe’s.
Upon entering the store, I immediately noticed Joe’s is packed with plastic! What happened to the old Trader Joe’s where you could pick up a head of lettuce or a few tomatoes without a hint of packaging. We did not purchase any produce for that reason, but the temptation was so great for an array of goodies, when we wheeled up to the checkout stand, our cart had more synthetic polymers than a Dow laboratory. Scones, bagged in plastic drug across the scanner. Bleep. Blue cheese, wrapped in plastic. Bleep. Nuts in plastic bags. Bleep. Plastic by the pound slid past. Oops.
In honor of all my sailing friends hanging out on Catalina Island this week, I won’t rename the salad dressing I concocted yesterday. I thought the ingredients were weird to begin with, but as is my nature, I had to do my own thing to make the blend even more bizarre. Licking it from my finger to compare it to the store bought, Ed declared it “just as good”. Regardless of the odd ingredients, he liked it.
It’s taken me six months to conclude that most plastic I unwittingly used to bring home was solely for convenience. I’ve learned when grocery shopping to root out, or at least recognize and minimize, unnecessary plastic. Salad in a bag, for example, is a time saver conveniently supplying a dump-n-eat healthy dish that I no longer purchase.
My garden has begun to bear fruit and I have taken on the persona of Elmer Fudd, haplessly trying to detour the wildlife from the great buffet. I don’t have a bounty. The squirrels, rabbits and birds have seen to that. I’ve been able to eek out a few salads and have more spring onions than a family of fifteen (humans) could hope to eat. The plan is to pick a slew of tomatoes soon. Presently they are immature, green and hard. The varmints are licking their chops waiting for the first blush of ripeness. I’ll outsmart them, somehow.