My plastic waste killed your great grandson

By Jeffrey the Barak

Yesterday at lunchtime, I had a salad. After the salad was transferred from the mixing bowl to the plate I looked at what lay before me, and it was a lot of plastic. In fact it half filled my kitchen trash can.

The salad itself was a precut, pre-washed salad. But I washed it anyway, in the basket from the salad spinner, I washed it and span it three times until the water was not brown. Next to these packaged salads, on the same shelf are similar salads with added plastic cutlery, dressing in plastic pouches and croutons in plastic pouches. These are for convenient lunches, but these generally go straight from the market to the table, and don’t get washed three times. Mud for lunch.

The package was rigid, clear PET plastic, with a sealing ring of plastic around the top edge and with a third piece of plastic in the form of a full color label. I used salad dressing, from a plastic bottle. I added chopped up sliced pre-cooked turkey, from another hard PET plastic container, and finally some non-cheese slices, individually wrapped in plastic sheets, and wrapped as a stack in more plastic. It took a few scoops with both hands to get all this plastic into the trash can. Today the trashcan will be emptied as I pull the plastic drawstrings on the plastic bin-liner and take the trash down to the dumpster under my apartment building. And from there on, it’s out of sight and out of my life. Or is it? Will it be buried, burned, deconstructed or dissolved? Where will the packaging from my lunch be next week, next year, after I’m long dead?

So I begin to wonder, what food can I eat that will not make such a lingering mess? Can I get food, distributed within a short distance from my home in urban Los Angeles, and keep it fresh long enough to have it for lunch a day or two later? Can I do this without using any plastic? I Googled Earth-friendly diet and eco-friendly diet and it seems I’m late to the party. People are already doing it with farmers markets and cloth shopping bags and bicycles. A little less plastic is being made and disposed of. But with a growing population is this movement keeping pace with us?

I see mountains of electronic and plastic waste in the suburbs of cites in China. The ocean contains tons of slowly degrading plastic, being ingested by fish and mammals. And every day there is more and more. Can I really make a difference by doing one small thing, forgoing plastic containers, or being very careful to wash them out with chemical detergent and get them into the recycling bin? Can I be sure that it is really being recycled by the trash company even though my neighbors put the incorrect objects and substances into the recycling bin every day? Someone will have to sort it very carefully to separate my washed out salad box from a cardboard carton containing the last uneaten slice of pizza, and  a broken electric space heater. I’m not convinced it’s really being done.

So I can start gradually with a little bit of locally grown produce. I can buy less processed meat because the cattle ranches are ruining the planet, I can cut out some processed and refined foods because they cause a larger environmental impact with their manufacturing operation, and I can make sure I don’t eat the wrong kind of fish, the kind that is from declining or endangered species. Does this help the world when two hundred people an hour go through a drive-through lane to get a burger and a Coke? And what would happen if everyone did it? Would we even be able to produce the food for today’s huge population?

Yes I know this is an article of questions with no answers, but I’m not. the professor. I’m just a silly old jazz drummer who noticed a heap of plastic towering beside a lunch plate.

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