Winners and losers


August 24, 2013 Comments (0) journal

What’s in your trash can?


I remember, growing up, our kitchen trash can was lined with paper grocery bags. That’s what we brought the groceries home in and that’s how what was left of the groceries left the house when we were done with them. Somewhere along the line that changed, and plastic took over, much like it has nearly everywhere else. (One of the louder opposition voices to any kind of plastic grocery bag ban program is the “we-need-them-to-line-our-garbage-pail” defense. Which is wrongheaded, on several different levels.)

Still, what to use? It’s hard to rid yourself of the convenience and reliability of plastic, especially if you have to carry your house waste any distance to a dumpster. Those of you who are fortunate enough to be able to transfer your kitchen can to your curbside container directly can get by without any bag at all, a process that will require some periodic rinsing and cleaning, but one that has the least amount of impact. Unfortunately in our household, this isn’t an option. Still, the idea of taking otherwise biodegradable items and placing them inside a polymer container that ensures they won’t actually be able to biodegrade for years is a fairly indefensible position. It can be a puzzle.

And the use of these bags represents an amazing disregard for the health of the planet. The average plastic grocery bag has a usable “life” of about 15 minutes, but it can persist in the environment – and in our oceans – for decades. More than 1 million of the things are used every minute (think about that one!), and worldwide, we go through more than 500 billion of them every year. Something that didn’t even exist just a few short decades ago is now literally wrapping the planet.

So I just bought some diaper pail liners. Seriously. We have to carry our trash several hundred yards up the hill to the dumpster and finding the right method of doing so has been difficult. I’m not sure that this is the answer either, but it might be. The bags are, after all, still plastic, but they are supposedly not single-use and I’d like to think that they will be pretty durable. I hope so.

The act of eliminating unnecessary plastic from your life is a continuum, a journey. Whether a plastic-free existence actually exists as a final destination or not, the journey itself can be most instructive.