Plastic makes hypocrites of us all. And it may be that this realization is especially strong and potent in those of us who think about it more than others, we who think we know the situation, but find ourselves on the other side of that plastic line over and over again.
I was at a party recently – a kid’s affair, birthday or some such event – where the plates were foamed plastic, the sturdy plastic cups were adorned with little jokes and riddles, each cup had a colorful plastic straw and the forks, knives and spoons were all plastic as well. All on top of a flimsy plastic tablecloth, you know the kind. When the shindig was over, I assume the cleanup was quick, just a matter of wrapping it all up in the tablecloth and throwing into a large plastic bag.
How to talk about the issue of single-use plastic waste without sounding overly dramatic: that seems to be a big constraint under which we find ourselves operating. Maybe it’s that it’s just one in a long line of major disasters – climate change, rising sea levels, overfishing, ocean acidification, etc. – that are affecting the oceans and, by extension, life as we know it. Maybe we’re tired from all the doom, suffering from chronic crisis fatigue. In any case, these are not happy thoughts and they are difficult concepts to try and relate without allowing for any sense of drama.
There used to be one of those “wise” sayings that drift in and out of the workplace from time to time, borne like quasi-intellectual flotsam on the changing tides of management theory. “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” Every time I have a drink with a straw in it, I think about that sound-bite and wonder which side I’m really on. How much cognitive dissonance is too much? Does what I say match what I do? See? These are hard thoughts, terrible thoughts to mix with a margarita, and they may never occur to most people. I do what I can to rationalize them away. The margarita helps.
And while it’s easy to jump on the soapbox and lunge into Anti-Plastic Sermon #31, the real message is a simple one and it’s right there in front of us. The single-use plastic forks and straws and cups that were used for less than a half-hour will persist for centuries. Little Timmy (not his real name), will be long gone before any of the items from his birthday table begin to actually break down. His grandchildren will be in the ground and – quite possibly – their grandchildren as well, before those “disposable” implements show any real signs of decay.
There are alternatives, and we know this. It matters, and we know this too. That’s what makes the hypocrisy so hard to stomach. I’m not pointing any fingers.