This is the first in a series of blogs about a regular guy who considers himself an environmentalist but who gets reminded, on a regular basis, that there's always room for improvement.
She’s not always right, but this time she is.
We aren’t bound by silly gender roles in this house; I do most of the cooking and all of the shopping. I also buy most of the plastic and Styrofoam that comes into our home -- and the single use plastic bags.
I don’t really buy those indestructible throw-aways on purpose; it’s just the way things are packaged. Milk comes in plastic jugs, eggs in Styrofoam trays, bread in plastic bags, and dog food in that plastic-foil-like stuff. It’s impossible to avoid it, isn’t it? Not really, my wife Lucinda tells me (usually in no uncertain terms). “Just stop and think for a minute,” she says.
Take asparagus…or yellow squash: two admirably healthy vegetables that, left alone, will happily decompose into an environmentally friendly puddle of nutrient rich goo that other plants just gobble up. Trimmings, leftovers, and even extras that lived too long in the refrigerator can be tossed into the composter and, in a few short weeks, emerge as rich soil that earthworms will burrow for miles to reach once you mix it in your sandy plot. Even if you throw them in the trash and they make it to the landfill, they will do the same thing: decompose quietly and completely.
The problem is that these virtuous veggies come packed in an unnecessary Styrofoam bed, wrapped tightly in yards of plastic wrap. Why? There are two reasons, really. First, Americans don’t like to buy vegetables that look like…well, vegetables – things that were grown in actual soil in an actual field in the actual outdoors. We prefer things that look like the stars of a Disney movie: unblemished and perfect in every way.
Second, it allows the store to tell you how much asparagus you will actually buy. Of course they say you can ask them to break packages, but has anyone ever seen a shopper ask them to? “Pardon me, sir, I need only one small zucchini. Could you find a nice one for me?”
So, while we are congratulating ourselves on eating more vegetables, we are literally cramming the stuff that they come wrapped in down the throat of our planet and expecting her to digest it. But she can’t, and neither can the other creatures that share our earthly home with us.
But what about recycling? I recycle everything, even the paper tag on teabags. “Nice try,” she tells me. “Only about 4% of that stuff actually makes it into the recycling program. The rest gets buried in a landfill or, worse, dumped in the ocean. In fact, we dump about 8 million tons of plastic in the ocean every year! Seabirds, turtles, fish and mammals ingest it, get tangled in it, and die horribly.” Buddy and Jesse, the dogs, look at me as if to say, “Don’t you care about any species other than your own?”
Well, I do. So I’ve started to think for just a minute about what I buy. I can’t avoid plastic entirely, but I can certainly look for alternatives when I can find them. Locally, in my St. Petersburg neighborhood, we have places that avoid or minimize the use of plastic and Styrofoam in the veggie department at least. City Produce, a small, locally owned produce market, is the best place to start, and so is the Saturday Morning Market – a model for other farmers’ markets in many towns across the nation. Rollin’ Oats, a local market and health food store, is like a farmers’ market with air conditioning. Even some chains, like Fresh Market, use little plastic packaging in their vegetable department. Among bigger chains, it’s still possible to find loose produce; just avoid the prepackaged stuff.
And don’t pick up one of those plastic bags to wrap your loose produce. Your potatoes, cabbage, carrots, and eggplant made it all the way to your store without the “protection” of a plastic bag made of the thinnest material known to humankind. That bag, which is used for about 11 minutes and then discarded, looks just like a jellyfish to a sea turtle, but one with lethal results when eaten. If you need a produce bag, get a couple of cloth ones to accompany the reusable bags that, by now, you MUST be carrying into the store with you, right?
And how do you remember to carry those bags into the store with you? As my wife says so often, when you get to the market, “Just stop and think. How can I protect this fragile blue ball on which we all live while I’m doing something as ordinary as looking for green beans and lettuce?”
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I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!