Recently, dosage having forgot my lunch for the day, I went to get a sandwich at a new place in town. I had been there once before, and knew the sandwiches were good, but had an issue with the container they came in.
The large plastic container was made more unpleasant due to the fact that the delicious sandwich that it protected sloshed wildly from side to side in the oversized container, unable to gain purchase on the slippery bottom.
When I came back to the sandwich shop, I was ready to confront this unfortunate side effect of an otherwise delicious lunch. I asked for a substitute for the cumbersome plastic, something that might better suit my sandwich eating style. The purveyor assured me that I would want a reseal able container, so as to best make use of the extensive buffet of toppings.
The next statement made me take pause: I was assured that this establishment paid a premium for only compostable plastics, meaning that they would bio-degrade, just like food scraps and yard waste. The business was obviously trying to do the right thing and this intention made me feel good. Yet I was confused because the plastic looked unassumingly average: no eco-plastic, or bio-plastic, or biodegradable name tags to let the consumer know that they were doing their part by using ‘sustainable’ plastic alternatives. I left with a feeling that both I and this shop owner were not getting a fair shake.
I decided to do some research, and found that the company manufacturing the containers, Pactiv, had a rather compelling case for their plastics. Not compostable plastics, mind you, but for their typical plastics. According to the company and their sources, polystyrene takes up a relatively small amount of the municipal solid waste stream, as compared to other packaging products like paper. Once all of this material is sealed in a landfill, there is almost no air or sunlight, making conditions poor for anything to biodegrade, including paper. If this is the case, and nothing is really going to decompose anyway, then why not go with the material that will take up less space? For more information on Pactiv’s packaging choices, check out their product guide.
Pactiv’s assertions assume that material will be going to the landfill, and that paper packaging products are not diverted to composting or recycling programs; this makes sense considering that in much of the country, municipal food scrap recycling (composting) is not available. Given that there are currently not many options available for compostable materials, do Pactiv’s arguments about the merits of polystyrene hold water?
To follow up on my sandwich saga, I went back to my local sandwich spot, and informed the purveyor of my discoveries: his containers, for which he was paying a green premium, were actually your average polystyrene. Lightweight, yes, but also completely permanent. After I eat my sandwich, that container might go into a landfill, it might get blown into the ocean - either way, it goes somewhere, and stays there forever.
We can see that there are different arguments to be made. On the one hand, polystyrene is inexpensive, and it may not take up too much weight in the landfill. On the other hand, it is permanent, and made of oil, a non-renewable resource. What about biodegradable packaging? It has its own plusses and minuses. Yes, it may decompose at the end of its lifecycle, but not if it goes to the landfill. And yes, it is produced from plant starch, which is renewable. All that growing requires land, water, and yes, oil too.
Every day we make choices, and weigh consequences. It can be hard to know how to do the right thing when the choices are so complex. As long as we exhibit some sort of intentionality, that we have some sort of reasoning for our decision making, then we can keep having important conversations, and work our way towards the real truth of the matter, whatever that happens to be.
So what do a five-armed sea critter and Katy Perry have in common – much less to do with garbage?
Now that it’s the New Year and resolutions are fresh, school is back in session, it’s important to think about what inspires you – or rather, what really helps mobilize you to continue doing the environmental work you’re doing. Every environmentalist/activist/change-maker should have a toolbox of favorite catch phrases, songs, and stories they keep in reserve and can pull out every time they feel disheartened or discouraged about their efforts.
For me, there’s the parable of the sea star, an oldie but goodie: the story of a boy who takes a walk on the beach one morning, and finds the sand littered with thousands of sea stars. A big storm from the night before had washed them up on shore, and now they were stranded far above the tide line. The only other soul in sight was an old man who was making slow progress across the sand, stopping to delicately pick up each blue or violet sea star in his path, and toss it back into the ocean. The boy watched the old man repeat this act for several minutes before approaching him.
“It’s really great you’re doing that,” the boy said, “but there are thousands of sea stars out here. What difference can you possibly make?”
The old man considered his answer for a long moment, gazing out across the beach in the morning light and then down to the sea star at his feet. He then stooped, gently picked up the small echinoderm, and tossed it safely into the water. “Well,” he finally replied, “I made a difference for that one.”
The story continues, with the boy wordlessly joining the old man, and the two of them inspiring the other morning walkers, joggers, and sunbathers to help until the beach was at last free of sea stars. It’s a parable I love because its core is so simple: we can never predict how far our influence may go, what change our actions might engender, and that’s a profoundly healing concept. Every accomplishment is something to celebrate because of its potential to spread: whether it’s inspiring one student/friend/co-worker to change his/her behavior, or converting your family to the 4R’s, or simply being a positive role model of sustainable behavior to those around you.
But that’s just in my toolbox – and I recall that story every time I begin to feel discouraged about the kind of difference I’m making, trying to re-teach the concept “garbage” and help schools reduce waste. For another student, she admitted she loves Katy Perry’s song “Firework,” which helps her remember what strength she has as an LGBTQ student and to keep doing her best to help others.
So whether you love or hate pop music, or whether or not the parable of the sea star does anything for you – it’s vital that you discover what inspires you, and that you keep adding to that toolbox each year.
What stories, songs, or quotes keep pushing you forward for your change-work?
Wanbelistap means "we are together on this journey"; "while I may not be there with you physically, health I am there in spirit, medical and will be there when it is done” - CMCA (Community Mine Continuation Agreement) Review for the OK Tedi Copper Mine, Papua New Guinea.
When it comes to waste, we are all in this thing together. Any time you make a purchase, you are connecting to a world far outside of where you live, where you go to school, or even where you vacation. Your purchase connects you to the stores where you shop, the truckers that move goods, the people who make them, the resources that they are made of, and of course, the oil and coal that powers the whole system.
The OK Tedi Mine, located in the Star Mountains of Papua New Guinea, is an example of one of those connections. All resource extraction operations have impacts on the environments and communities in which they are located. Impacts can be both positive and negative. The OK Tedi mining operation discharges tailings (discarded mining debris) into the Fly and OK Tedi rivers, affecting 50,000 downstream inhabitants. So what is the true cost of the copper that is essential to most of our electronics? Surely the price that is paid by communities around the OK Tedi mine, and operations like it, must be weighed. The OK Tedi mine is a great contributor to the regional economy and the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of New Guinea. Tax dollars from this business likely supports government, schools, and infrastructure. Do those benefits outweigh the costs of environmental degradation and access to clean water?
Bay area residents are well aquainted with a symbol of the port of Oakland, the larger than life cranes that (apparently) inspired a certain science fiction filmmaker (or did they?). In what ways do these steel creatures symbolize a connection between the bay area, what we buy, and the broader world that we inhabit?
Hello! Welcome to Talkin’ Trash, dosage a blog about waste, viagra dosage refuse, rubbish, garbage, and its many possible possibilities! Written by the knowledgeable staff of the EarthTeam Environmental Network, this blog will provide answers to pressing waste-related questions, as well as investigations into the fascinating world of trash. The Waste Action staff at EarthTeam will update this resource regularly with relevant articles, as well as interesting discoveries from across the Internet. Readers are welcome and encouraged to join the conversation by posting comments or feedback. Join EarthTeam on facebook at www.facebook.com/earthteam, or follow on Twitter at @ETNetwork for up to the moment events, news, and activity!
Ben Bezark performs presentations and conducts waste audits at middle and high schools throughout Alameda county as EarthTeam’s Waste Action Assistant. Ben studied community development at the University of Vermont, and has a passion for reuse, re-purpose, and doing it yourself. Through this blog, he hopes to gain new insight into the world of consumption and waste (which is to say, the world we live in) and the many actions that are being taken to reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot our way to a more meaningful life, more sustainable communities, and a healthier life.
Caroline Sandifer is EarthTeam’s Climate Action Campaign Director. She spends her time digging through trash with students, leading environmental club meetings, and supporting SLWRP, as well as climate justice issues, at schools. Her love, as a child, of archaeology, has now translated to the excavation of, and investigation into, garbage - and the infinitely neat things people throw away! As a previous English and Creative Writing double major, she is also fascinated by the stories people tell about waste and consumption: whether it’s the media in their steady stream of advertisements, the language people use in describing their experiences with garbage, or the challenges and successes she’s observed at school campuses. Through this blog, Caroline hopes to re-claim the phrase “Talkin’ Trash” as a positive way to open the conversation about the 4Rs and what we use, what we throw away, and what it says about us.