Ten Reasons Why I Hate Cheap Plastic Crap, and Why You Should Too

| January 7, 2014 | 16 Comments

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.

The Banana Bunker, zenith of our human ingenuity

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 PatchAnd 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?

Albatross chick remains, Midway Island

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.

Sorting plastics

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.






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Category: Home, Products (Green and hedonistic), Sustainable, Useful Stuff

Comments (16)

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  1. Heidi says:

    Yes, yes, yes. I so agree! I try to not bring extra into my house but yesterday was an orgy of consumption. My son moved into his apartment and we gave him a lot of our things, then bought new versions for ourselves. Some was from thrift stores (my new dishes) but much was new (trash cans, spatula, towels and bath mat.). Thank you for the reminder that I need to STOP.

  2. Lanta says:

    I totally agree with everything you are saying! Plastic crap angers me so much too, that so much environmental damage is taking place just for a stupid cheap toy that is just going to be thrown into landfill and cause as much damage as its production did. I’m so glad someone agrees with me because this is such a big issue and really needs to be sorted out! I get so annoyed when i see stupid plastic toys and lego angers me so much! Did you know there are over 4 billion lego bricks in the world? This annoys me so so much. Lego should not exist. We only have so much space on the planet and how long will it be until plastic crap fills it up?

    • greenhedonist says:

      Thanks, Lanta. Have you seen the clear plastic egg cartons? The ones made of a plastic for which there is NO recycling stream in the United States? My husband won’t go near the egg cooler at the grocery store with me any more because I’ll start ranting….poor man! 🙂

      • Roberto says:

        ALDI sells their eggs in those. There is an ALDI conveniently near my home, so I often shop there instead of walking the extra tenminutes to the other nearby grocery stores. I have to check the packet for broken eggs or right a high chance of at least one cracked egg. If there are only a few (>20%) left, you are guaranteed at least the first two you pick up have cracked eggs inside, and the one you finally find without cracked eggs will be covered in semidry egg whites.

        The store that is further does half and half, plastic to and cardboard bottom, with shrink-wrap to hold it together.

  3. Emma Flintham says:

    I completely agree! I found this extremely educational and highly inspirational thankyou !

    • greenhedonist says:

      Thanks, Emma. This summer we tried very hard to avoid using plastic packaging, and were amazed at how difficult it was — what we had to give up in order to do so, in other words. Berries, for instance — unless someone had them at the farmer’s market, fresh berries were out (so of course we planted some…hopefully next summer we’ll have a crop…) Is it the same where you are?

  4. CrazySteeve says:

    Finally, some else feels the same about all this useless shit. When I was growing up my stupid parents got my a lot of crap looking back on it, and holy shit I remember yelling at my parents for keeping all these plastic containers, and all this other cheap decorative crap that cluttered the house and made it look ugly. When I finally own a home and have kids I wont do the same because it pissed me off growing up. The only thing that is hard to avoid is all the food packaging plastic. This whole consumer society pisses me off.

    • greenhedonist says:

      I agree. The food packaging is so tough, though — it require time and thought to figure out solutions, because it’s almost impossible to get certain things that AREN’T in plastic any more, and it varies from place to place. I’ll keep working on publishing solutions, though, as I find them!

  5. Susan says:

    I agree completely. Anyone else kind of obsessed with this? I go to work meetings and cringe over the number of one-off plastic cups my colleagues use. (I occasionally get brave and suggest reusable stainless steel or glass might be smarter, but it takes a lot out of me to be confrontational.) I read the news, and see people leaving flowers at national tragedies and ask, “Do they have to buy flowers with plastic wrappings?” or “Do they have to leave plastic-filled teddy bears at the site of an accident?” “Are straws really necessary?” Not asking everyone to be as nuts as I am but a little more thoughtfulness would be good. The planet is being trashed and animals are being hurt.

    • Km says:

      I feel the same way! its going to take a revolution to get people to see the damage plastic does and to change their ways. I lay awake at night worrying about this stuff. It seems like with just a little thoughtfulness we could eliminate a lot of plastic, especially in needless packaging, but people are set in their ways and too distracted to care. I live in China right now and the grocery aisles filled with plastic packaging sends me into a tailspin. EVERYTHING is in plastic.

      • greenhedonist says:

        I remember when I visited New Zealand in the early 90’s, and was delighted to see real milk in the stores, in real reusable glass bottles. One person heard me admiring that, and made sure to tell me proudly that “soon we’ll be getting it in plastic jugs, just like the U.S.” #facepalm

    • Siv Ingrid Borgersen says:

      I know this is an old post, but I wanted to reply anyway.

      I struggle so hard with the existence of plastic in my daily life, you know, to acknowledge its presence.

      I try really hard to not take it upon my self to recycle everything I come across that is not my personal waste, like in a work place where people use one-use-cups, or other items.

      I wish for every customer to ever live to say no thank you to plastic bags. For product packaging to be replaced by sustainable material, or in many cases, no package at all.

      My biggest struggle is the stress this brings, and sometimes anger at people that seemingly do not concern themselves with this. That is ok. I know there is a time and place for everything, and I try to separate my personal feelings at work, but sometimes it gets to me still, handing out plastic bags to “every one” that buys a product.

      My biggest wish in life is for plastic to be replaced by a sustainable and biodegradable alternative. And for product packaging in general to be reduced to a minimum. I wish for this to be the norm in societies all over the world, so that we all can be free from the stress this brings to mind for how plastic waste affects our environment.

      • greenhedonist says:

        Thank you so much for commenting. I too am obsessed with it — disturbed by it. Our local enviro group did a screening of “A Plastic Ocean” the other day and it just added fuel to the (mental) fire. I am finding it very hard not to be judgmental when people I care about just wantonly pour plastic into the waste stream without thinking about it. I know it’s more important to educate people than it is to get mad, but I can’t help it sometimes. I just want to put them on a boat and make them go out and take care of sea mammals and birds wrapped in plastic, with stomachs full of plastic, caught and dying in plastic. Not the right thing to do, but it’s all so upsetting.

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