Happy Solstice! Today is the first full day of summer.v Solstice actually occurred last night at 9:24PM where I live. Which means Summer, the season that unofficially exists for me as soon as the snow melts until it falls again, is in full swing. It also seems to be a big birthday day, so happy birthday to all those turning one year older and wiser.
Today is also the first day in my project. As of this morning I am collecting all of the plastic garbage I create. My plan right now is to continue this project until the first full day of Fall. This is a self reflexive project, and already I have some reflections.
I got very distracted this morning drinking my coffee. It started with this video, which I found completely fascinating. This lead me down an internet rabbit hole of all sorts of interesting topics, but unfortunately ate up the time I would use to make lunch. If it has lead you down a similar rabbit hole I guess I’m not very good at this blogging thing. Please come back.
I’ve been a lot more conscious about taking a lunch to work, but goofed it up today. Oh well, there is a great little cafe by where I work and I would not starve.
I figured this would be a pretty low plastic garbage option. The owner of the cafe is great, and generally lets me borrow a plate to take my lunch away on instead of using a to-go container. I can wash my face and hands at work, so no need for a napkin. I even remembered to clarify that I didn’t need a plastic fork. I pretty much always have a fork in my purse/backpack. I’m pretty sure they breed in there. I was doing great, little to no plastic. I get ridiculously excited about lunch, and having Phil’s Jamaican Patties was going to be great. Unfortunately the hotsauce comes in a little plastic cup.
I knew this, and completely forgot. These items are meant to be impermanent in our thoughts. They are ubiquitous. How often do you think about the plastic spoon after you finish the sundae? The little plastic cup, with the little plastic lid, that holds my hotsauce. Shoot. So, I’m doing an audit and I guess it’s time to look at that little plastic cup.
Most plastics have a symbol identifying what type of plastic it is somewhere on the item. True enough the little plastic cup was stamped with the three recycling arrows and a little number six.
Number six plastics are polystyrene. Polystyrene is the family of plastics that includes styrofoams. Growing up in the 90s taught me that styrofoam is really bad, and you should avoid it. Unfortunately, not all polystyrene looks like foam. This stuff is everywhere. Hard polystyrene is used in all sorts of packaging including clamshell packaging for produce, and CD cases. It’s a favourite for take away food products, such as plastic forks and my little hot sauce cup, because it is cheap to produce, light to transport, and isn’t ruined by humidity or cold. Foam polystyrene is a great insulator, and is also used to protect fragile goods during shipping.
Can it be recycled? Well, the answer to that is yes, but not easily. Some major municipalities have polystyrene recycling programs. I live in a small community and cannot put polystyrene products in my curbside recycling. This is pretty standard in British Columbia commnities. You can check your municipality’s website to see if you can put number six plastics into your curbside bin. I could potentially take it to a recycling centre. I will likely do this if I end up with a fair amount of number six plastics at the end of my project. The little cup will only be a little cup once. Food containers are always made out of new polystyrene. This is unlike other materials like glass, which can be recycled again and again into consumer products. Recycled polystyrene is generally turned into insulation. It can only be recycled once.
The little cup would be shipped elsewhere to be recycled. These products are very light, and easily get blown off of transport trucks and out of landfills, turning them into litter.This is the big problem with polystyrene. It blows around in the wind and ends up in the oceans. A 2008 study suggested that sixty to eighty per cent of ocean plastic pollution is polystyrene. These plastics break down pretty quickly in the ocean and end up in the food chain. Polystyrene quickly turns into small plastic bits. Marine birds, fish and mammals mistake these bits for food. They can eat them, but they can’t digest them. These plastic bits clog up their digestive tracts and can cause starvation in severe cases. This isn’t just a problem for little plastic flecks. Polystyrene bits can cause major injury, and potentially death for creatures as large as whales.
OK. Panic time. So I got hotsauce with my Jamaican patties, and now I’m a monster responsible for the death of seabirds. It’s Puffin Killer Meghan over here. I Might as well make myself a nametag. Right? Well, that’s the whole point of this project. To stop and think about how one person’s consumption can change. Some environmental issues are massive, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or like you can’t do anything about it. This is pretty easy. Just don’t get the damn hotsauce cup.
So what are my options? I can eat lunch at the lovely little cafe, enjoy the camaraderie of the lovely owner, and actually take some time to myself instead of just eating food infront of my computer at work. That sounds super great. Sadly, I’m not sure how likely it is. The other option is to be more honest with myself about what my day is going to look like. Am I getting lunch out? If yes, I guess I could say “no” to the hotsauce. This is not realistic whatsoever, and I shouldn’t even consider it as part of my audit. The better option is to bring a reusable. I have these totally amazing collapsible bowls. I usually remember one of the bigger ones for takeout, but the little purple one is the perfect size for condiments. It’s a little bigger than the disposable 1.5 ouncer that I got today, so this may work out in my favour. I already remember a fork and a coffee mug, one extra thing isn’t that hard. I already have the container so this change literally costs me nothing.
That little 1.5 ounce fish killing bastard is the first stop and think bit of garbage of the season. It might be the last. I doubt it. Hopefully not, as I have paid for a domain name and I don’t think I’ve gotten my money’s worth yet. For the next three months it will be the collection recepticle for all my produce stickers, like the one from my pear today. Those sticky little jerks are neither recyclable nor compostable. After that mission the little cup might end up in a landfill, where it will stay for hundreds of years. If it is reasonable to take it to recycling it may be turned into housing insulation. It may also end up in the ocean, break down, and negatively affect the digestive system of a turtle, bird, or fish. This is the reality. Hopefully it will be the last of such recepticles I have to put in my plastic stash.
The other piece of plastic from today was the top ribbon from a bag of frozen berries. It’s been unseasonably cool and damp this spring. The fresh berries are a little late, and I bought a bag of frozen ones for smoothies. Those bags are super useful (I don’t buy ziplocs anymore) but the top piece is just straight up garbage. I looked and couldn’t find a recycling symbol anywhere.
So day one was a day. Lunch was really yummy. My compliments to the Chef. Unfortunately that little cup was only in service for about twenty (delicious) minutes. Now it will exist forever. It will exist in my house for the next three months. Here we go.