After a cursory Saturday visit to the gym, my friend and I get down to breakfast at the nearby diner. This is a nice ritual of friendship, practiced over years. We know the waitstaff, they know us. This last visit, however, instead of my usual quiet reserved self, I Jekyl-Hyde-d the waiter. I spoke out, I engaged, stepped outside the friendly social parameters of waiter/ waitee. I revealed my parentage: Mom. She was probably Yahweh in another life, but regardless, she retained the Right to Be Righteous in her last one. Mom always knew what was right, and never ever hesitated to reveal that information. She was a bonafide Moral Compass.
So, this biblical DNA came home to roost as we sat in the nice diner having mediocre good crappy breakfast grease. I saw plastic, and I simultaneously Saw Red. I can't believe the things that come out of my mouth when it comes to plastic (and politics). But having in my head the prediction that, by 2050, half of everything in the ocean would be plastic, some synapses started snapping somewhere inside. All the warning survival instincts in my bloodlines started shouting alarms. My heart hurts for the planet, for the people, for the resources. My blood rushed at that moment, and I became a spokesperson. I started in on The Plastic at our table. My friend leaned back in her seat to be further from me, I thought, but she did not tell me to clam up, and I think she's really in agreement.
Most people are becoming very aware of the rape and pillage of the environment--mostly by technology, mostly by the U.S. and China, and mostly by human-induced climate change. Plastic has its own horror stories. Walk into ANY store in the U.S., and not only do you see plastic items for sale everywhere you look, but everything is encased in plastic. Everything is disposable. There are mountains of it, buried in the oceans and under the earth. AND NONE OF IT HAS GONE AWAY SINCE IT WAS DUMPED THERE.
All the debris currently clogging the waters of the planet threatens the life of the increasingly-stressed ocean life, from corals to whales. And increasingly, as fish become harmed, overharvested, and reproduce less, this means less food in the chain for us top-feeders. As well as heartbreaking loss of fellow live creatures to keep the balance of life on the planet. Creative minds have found ways to use plastic, recycle it, re-use or reconstruct it. But the re-use's still get tossed someday.
Hope, however, always exists, in some really unexpected places: Some young man in Denmark has invented a sweep that might be the answer to clean up the ocean (1). And some researchers have found that an existing type of mealworm actually breaks down plastic so it isn't even plastic anymore!(2) Not even tiny little life-threatening microbeads remain as plastic once these mealworms eat it. AND, and the mealworms are still able to reproduce on this diet. You have to wonder if evolution provided this escape hatch for the planet, eons ago, in a kind of time loop. I truly hope so, because that means there might be more in the arsenal than we know of at this point.
So when the waiter in the diner handed me a straw, I said, "I don't believe in using straws, because they are a huge contributor to landfill and environmental pollution." He looked at me a second, processing the shift in his routine, and shrugged.
"Okay, " he said, and stuck it back in his pocket.
I said, " You could just eliminate straws altogether and let people drink out of glasses." I demonstrated doing just that. He shrugged again and shifted his feet. He was filling in for a waitress and wanted to get back to important stuff as soon as possible.
I pointed at the little bowl of plastic-packaged creamers and jelly, and said, " Those are plastic. You could use little metal or china creamers, and jelly pots."
He sighed and said, " Yeah, I don't make the decisions, you'd have to talk to my Dad."
I said, "You're right. I will write up a letter and bring it next time. But you get an opinion, too."
He smiled and said his favorite word, "Yeah." He took our order to the cook.
No one was saved, but I realized I could do much better than harass the waitstaff. Why can't socially conscious restaurants--and there are many--share plastic-free business savvy? Myself, I'm going to make up little cards encouraging restaurants I eat at, and patrons in the restaurant, to go for LOW PLASTIC. There are a lot of ways to do this, and some are very simple. One of my favorite restaurants uses cardboard take-out boxes instead of evil Styrofoam (if you don't bring your own container, which is a doable option. Or just order less food, because the global food shortage is going to kick in one of these days.) Most people would really LIKE to change their plastic habits, but it is so engrained that we don't know how. We will need to start a grassroots movement, a ripple effect, of information. We can start by Just Saying NO to Plastic. Grassroots works. All we have to do is START.
And there's the DNA thing. Survival instinct. Dad was a Marine in WW2. Trauma to the parent resurfaces in the child. Fighting for the planet is an evolutionary battle, it requires sacrifice and changes that we won't want to make. Mom's morals, Dad's actions. All our ancestors fought, and handed us the evolutionary skills to survive. We have racial memory. We have sophisticated and technological survival resources. We are recognizing the issues.
We can fight to reduce the use and acceptability of all forms of plastic. Hit on the waitstaff at diners. Set an example by doing. Practice plastic-free living (3). Fight in the diners, fight in the streets, fight on the internet (4) .
We Can Do It.
1. Mealworms may help reduce plastic waste:
2. Teen Invents Ocean Clean-Up:
3. My Plastic Free Life --a terrific wonderful blog!! And there are other resources on living plastic-free. http://myplasticfreelife.com/
4. Paraphrasing the probably most famous and inspirational fight speech EVER, Winston Churchill's call to Britain in WW2: