Actually, I’m kinda proud of myself.
I managed to get through the entire Christmas buying orgy without saying anything about this, but the holidays are spent and so is my restraint. Apologies in advance to anyone who may have a fondness for cheap plastic crap, or who is employed by or dependent on the cheap plastic crap industry.
Reason #1: Our discarded cheap plastic crap has already contributed to the creation of a million-square-mile garbage vortex in the Pacific Ocean – the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. And I’m being charitable. Some estimates say it’s as big as 5,000,000 square miles, 8% of the Pacific Ocean’s surface. Carried by the currents. Slowly breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces, washing up by the ton on nearby islands. And growing. Does anyone with basic math skills think that it won’t be double that size in ten years?
I could stop there, but oh why? I have nine more.
Reason #2: It makes me sad that parents and grandparents give their kids and grandkids a bunch of cheap plastic crap instead of gifts that matter. It’s mentally lazy, it does NOT say ANYTHING even close to “I love you,” and it sets a terrible example for the kids about giving gifts. “Hey, I could use my brain to give you something that teaches you something or helps you grow or that you’ll still cherish when you’re 30, but it’s SO much easier and faster to just buy this piece of cheap plastic crap all the other parents are buying. Happy birthday, kid!” A generations of kids is being brought up to think that receiving a throwaway plastic toy — which will be broken and discarded within a month — is better than receiving something thoughtful, meaningful, and lasting.
Reason #3: Cheap plastic crap is made mostly of fossil fuels. You know, that stuff that is getting more and more scarce by the day, and that people are fighting and dying over? When I look at some of these objects, my mind sees them as big blops of oil, formed into some kind of shape deemed useful or saleable by someone. The oil had to be extracted (with everything that entails) and refined, and mushed into plastic, and sent to the manufacturer, and then the product burned even more to make the five thousand mile journey to where I’m looking at it. But hey, that shouldn’t matter, right, because Lookee! I can just pop this plastic thing in my coffee machine and it makes inferior coffee superfast! And then I just have to throw the plastic thing in the trash. God, I love progress.
Reason #4: You often can’t recycle cheap plastic crap, and if you can, it’s damned hard. What do you do with that plastic kiddie pool that gets cracked the first day? The cheap plastic Walmart toys that fall apart the first time they’re played with? The styrofoam cooler with the chip taken out of it by the dog? The trillions of plastic party favors nobody cares about anyway? Our major metropolitan area has ONE facility that accepts hard-to-recycle plastics, and it’s an hour away. If *I* have a hard time finding the energy to save things up and go all that way to discard them properly, you can imagine how resistant everyone else on the planet is to the idea. But that’s okay. We have an entire island in the Pacific to dump it all in, right?
Reason #5: Fish, animals and birds eat our cheap plastic crap. Don’t care about fish, animals or birds? Sea turtles don’t really do it for you? Fair enough, let’s try this: Small plastic bits and sun-degraded plastics can break down to release toxins like PCBs, BPA, and polystyrene derivatives. They also attract and absorb organic pollutants from seawater, including more PCBs, DDT, and dioxins. Which are ingested by fish, crustaceans, and jellyfish, which are eaten by larger fish, which are eaten by…your kid. You. Your mom. Whoever. And you know what? You will never know you’re being poisoned. Not even when you wind up with liver cancer in a few years, wondering how in the heck you got that.
Reason #6: Cheap plastic crap is our friend — and our kids’ friend — for life. According to Annie Leonard’s research, 99% of our treasured day to day purchases are discarded within 6 months. 99%. Here in the U.S., we toss about 34 million tons of plastic each year, but only 6.5 percent of it gets recycled. Some kinds of cheap plastic crap hermetically sealed in a landfill may take a thousand years to decompose. Question: What kind of mass psychosis does it take to keep making hundreds of millions of tons of something that gets thrown away within 6 months and won’t decompose in a dozen generations? Not a rhetorical question.
Reason #7: If you’re lucky, your cheap plastic crap is gathered into huge recycling bundles and shipped overseas (40% of it goes to China) where it might be sorted under (ahem) only the most humane, safe, and sanitary of conditions, so it can be transformed into NEW plastic crap, sent back here, and you can buy it a second time.
Reason #8: When cheap plastic crap breaks, there are two possible reactions: 1) No one cares, because it wasn’t anything that mattered in the first place, or 2) No one has any qualms about sending it to the landfill and replacing it. Annually, or monthly, let’s keep buying that same piece of crap and throwing out the old one. There are more on the shelves. (It’s sort of like the old joke, “I can’t be broke. I still have checks.”) Maybe we can buy the New n’ Improved cheap plastic crap this time!
Reason #9: Cheap plastic crap has no soul. A lot of objects were never even touched by the hands of human beings until they were touched by yours. Now, for the germophobes out there, that sounds like a pretty righteous deal: Whoo-hoo! No microbes! For the rest of us, who actually get into the fantasy that we’re buying something made by a person and not a machine, it’s pretty sad.
Reason #10: Cheap plastic crap is just bad for humanity, if we have any illusions about wanting to be good to one another. If something was fortunate enough to be assembled by humans, it was, almost without exception, assembled by people in faraway places, often in dreadful working conditions, in situations just one tiny step up from slavery. When I see the latest crappy playset or semi-useless kitchen widget, I think about a 13 year old girl somewhere, standing for 14 hours straight, gluing the legs or the handle on, or painting on the eyeballs. Over and over and over.
But hey, that’s just me. You may not care about any of this, and if that’s true I’m sorry you wasted your time (though the post title should’ve given you a clue what you were in for). Aaaand I’m done for another year. Whew!
I’m a hedonist to the core, and part of that – to me – is surrounding myself with things that make me feel good, not ashamed.
So look for an upcoming post about replacing, by attrition or volition, the cheap plastic crap in your life with things that don’t cause so much….ick.