Sunday, July 04, 2010

I have been lazily following Cat and Peter's initiative to track and reduce the amount of plastic they throw away each week. It's kind of a cool process, and has definitely got me thinking about it in a new way (I don't save an weigh my plastic, but I now look at all plastic I buy and think about what it would add to the pile.

I think it has actually prevented me from buying things a couple of times (bottles of juice, etc)

But it's also spun off in it's own direction.

I think the craze is mostly past, but for a while "my year of abstaining from _____" books seemed to be all the rage. I read quite a few of them, and most of them were really interesting (though the one about stuff made in China, I have to say, could have used a lot more analysis, and some sense of purpose on the part of the author)

These books are really great for trying to approach a big, unwieldy problem from a very distinct angle. To try to take everything into account, and to actually achieve some sort of balance, certainly makes my head spin, and is just too out of control to write a book about.

But hopefully not to do, or at least attempt, in a real, three-dimensional life.

So, I've been thinking about my plastic use, and my petroleum use (which is more to the point, and includes plastic, obviously) I'm not buying stuff in plastic nearly as much, but I am also more careful about buying stuff in glass (which is heavier, and takes more fuel to ship across the country, so that between the two, a single serving plastic bottle might be a more "eco-friendly" choice than a glass one, if it's travelled over a certain number of miles - I certainly don't know the math.

But also, plastic and petroleum use mostly isn't visible. I remember my horror, working in a produce warehouse (a cooperative one that stocked a lot of organics and supplied mostly co-ops) at how much plastic was used and disposed of inside our warehouse (pallets of fruit crates or whatever else were wrapped in heavy duty plastic wrap to keep things from falling just to transport them across the warehouse sometimes!)

One of my issues is that I never remember numbers, just vague inferences. But I've been hearing a lot lately about how our household trash is almost entirely insignificant. When you throw away a candy wrapper or a plastic strawberry container, you're contributing to the waste stream, but only about 1/10 (?!) of what you already contributed by buying it in the first place (don't quote me on that, the point is that most of the waste is invisible to us as the consumer. That's not to say it's wrong to worry about it, and think about it, but I think it's important to think about it in the larger context (like, if you can get something that is wrapped in paper but was produced by a giant corporation and shipped who knows how far to get to you, versus something in plastic which was produced in your neighborhood, your carbon footprint will most likely be much smaller with the latter.)