Progress: Plastic Confessions

After collecting my plastics for aplastic collection week, I find myself feeling a little appalled and very guilty- the hallmark of a budding ecoworrier. Here is my bagful. In it are three general categories of plastic bits. The first is food related: baggies for vegetables, a bread bag, a seal from my spinach dip, frozen food packaging, and styrofoam takeout containers. The second is cleaner and un-food related: wrapping from my cutting mat and new knife, shrink wrap from sundries, and price stickers. The third is plastic caps from bottles and a peanut butter jar. The only thing I feel positive about this plastic week is my record in refusing plastic carrying bags. I collected only 2, both with the takeout containers (from delicious little counters, but so much styrofoam! Can I bring my own food container to restaurants?) since the service was quick enough that I couldn’t object to the bag before another customer was being served: I need more refusal practice. A new larger, stronger tote bag aided this lack of grocery/shopping bags.

So, what to do with this sack of guilt? The dirty and sticky plastic I will have to toss. The clean plastics are a different thing. I can’t think of a sure way to recycle them. None have recycling marks, and none look like anything that Alexandria (or anywhere else nearby, fellow guerilla recyclers) recycles. The bread bags, grocery bags, and some of the shrink wrap is strong but pliable enough to be turned into yarn, which is good, since I can use yarn. The vegetable bags might be yarnable, but they aren’t very strong, so I’ll have to be especially careful with them. The rest of the clean plastics, and the remnants of the yarn plastic, come to a smaller but significant pile, and I’m going to experiment with them. My hypothesis is, I can use them for floor pillow and seat cushion stuffing: shred them into long and thin pieces, and maybe they’ll have enough loft together to sit on. I’ll report back on the tests and results of this scientific endeavor.

I’d also like to reduce my rate of plastic acquisition- I only need so many pillows. But given the number of useful objects that come wrapped in plastic for hygiene reasons, this is going to be difficult. And here the guilt needs to settle in and transform to a reasonable attempt at change: I will never, without leading an uncomfortable and awkward life, be completely free of plastic wraps. That will not be my goal. I will aim to reuse almost all of it that I must purchase, however, and investigate ways to buy foods in recyclable packaging- breads in paper, vegetables in a reusable sack (perhaps at a farmer’s market?), and avoid to every extent possible the unnecessary plastic wrapping.

The guilt says: How dare you! Totally eschewing plastic is more important than you being comfortable and able to participate fully in life! I say back, the total avoidance of plastic will require me to stop participating in my design and drafting classes (the materials are specific and often shrink wrapped) and require me to drive all about to find edible unwrapped items. Plastics can accomplish great things- notably the dissemination of many cheeses- and sparing use and careful reuse balance a healthy life. So there, guilt.

6 Responses to “Progress: Plastic Confessions”

  1. 1 Bicycling Person October 23, 2007 at 10:51 pm

    I just had an epiphany:

    Since all the ‘clean’ plastics are flimsy and crunchy like grocery bags, why not recycle them like grocery bags? As you mentioned before the local Giant supermarkets have recycling centers for plastic grocery bags, and I can’t see much difference between a plastic grocery bag and a vegetable bag, or possibly even shrinkwrap or other flimsy plastic baggie items.

    I say: get a giant brand grocery bag from wherever it happens to be blowing around out in the parking lot, stuff all your other non-grocery bag baggies and wrappers in a ball and wrap them in the other two grocery bags you accidentally picked up, and put the whole thing in the Giant bag in the Giant recycling booth.

    I’m not 100% sure it’ll meet it’s end at the shredder, but I can’t imagine that it’d be different enough to be sorted. (I’m woefully ignorant of the process of recycling these kinds of plastics – maybe I should ask the people at Giant next time I’m there ;).. but I digress)

  2. 2 virescent October 24, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    Good idea- the vegetable bags especially seem to be similar to the grocery bags. When they reform some of these plastics, though, they take care to keep different plastic types separated, since even a little of different kind will make a mix unstable. Seems kinda crummy, but I remember finding a lot of chemistry crummy. Let me know if you ask at Giant- I’ll try to remember, too. Also I was at Harris Teeter today and they had “degradable” plastic vegetable bags! I wonder how to degrade them (will time do it, or do I have to insult their mothers, too?).

  3. 3 millie October 26, 2007 at 5:19 am

    Please, no mother insulting – you should be able to see to their degrading more honorably.

  4. 4 virescent October 26, 2007 at 10:40 am

    Then I shall hoist their underpants up a flagpole the first day of school?

    Actually I found more info on these Teeter vegetable bags at the Harris Teeter website. They use an EPI (company) Totally Degradable Plastic Additive (TDPA) in their bags. They’re still recyclable unless you see signs of degredation, but under conditions of mechanical stress (being filled and used, for instance), and with exposure to heat, UV light, and wet, they’ll biodegrade. The process takes a couple years, but it’s better than the thousands of years normal plastic takes. Plus, they’ll degrade in your compost and in a landfill! I’ll be attaching one to my balcony to see how it works. Photos soon!

  5. 5 Cameron October 26, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    Is it bad that I just put all things plastic into the recycling…..I wash them first?? Will it get sorted and tossed, or will I contaminate the whole batch and cause massive world devastation!! Did you watch the CNN special about Earth in Peril…..the native American in my cried all night! It reairs on CNN today at 9pm!!

  6. 6 David Goodman November 24, 2007 at 7:15 pm

    Good blog entry. I’m thinking along the same lines as you… i.e., “My gosh, look how much plastic I’m throwing out each week!” I’ve been getting paper bags instead of plastic and composting them, which helps… but the obscene amount of plastic packaging on everything is discouraging.

    Thanks for the thoughts.

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