Brooklyn Boro

Save something other than money

October 1, 2021 William A. Gralnick
Head shot of writer William Gralnick
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Having read several articles in the Eagle on waste, pollution, and ecology, and watching what climate change and obdurate people are doing to erase Florida as we know it (except for the heat), I felt an urge to share these thoughts with you.

Remember soda in bottles? Milk in bottles? The thick brown bags in which you carried home your groceries? Vacuum packed coffee tins and that wonderful sound and smell they released when you broke the vacuum. Almost everything in your refrigerator then was in glass or tin cans. Today almost everything in the frig is in plastic. That’s very bad news.

Worse news is that almost everything you use in life has plastic in it, even stuff you eat. To me, one of the most insidious and invidious products is the microscopic balls found in makeup. They are found in the multiple trillions in our waterways and oceans, are swallowed by all manner of life, which they kill, or which are eaten by other creatures who then die.

I’m going to transition now to some things that I hope will have shock value. They come from the latest issue of Consumer Reports. A word about Consumer Reports. There are several non-profit consumer watchdog publications. Mine has always been Consumer Reports, and for good reason. They’ve never steered me wrong and when I chose not to listen to them, I paid the price. Here’s one example.

For reasons beyond me now, I had a hankering for a Corvair. She was the rear-engined Chevy semi-sports car. For a time, it was the rage. I was early into my work life, and I couldn’t afford a new one. I checked Consumer Reports’ wonderful ratings on used cars for the year I wanted. For that year, and all the others listed, it said this: “DO NOT BUY THIS CAR FOOL—CAVEAT EMPTOR!” And it told me why. The engine leaks oil. The oil drips on the motor. The motor then creates a thick acrid smoke that can be sucked into the car by the heating system, which I believe, was like the VW’s, using the engine heat to heat the car.

But I fell in love with one at the dealership. It was blue with a red leather interior. The dealer pooh-poohed the admonitions from CR, reminding me the car was still under warranty. That was reassuring but dopey. I did realize that he hadn’t answered the question about the problem, only that it was fixable at no cost. I drove it off the lot.

A few weeks later I had a date with a woman who was, shall we say, in a class status above mine, and two years older. Women mature faster than men, so the two years meant she was a woman and I just a budding man. I ushered her into my prize, being careful not to catch her fur coat in the door. Maybe a mile down the road she opined, “I smell something burning. Do you?” Within minutes I couldn’t see out the windshield and she was hollering about this oily smudge in the car choking her mink, which of course was already dead. So, I hope that has you saying, “Point taken.” Now to plastics.

They are, like rock and roll, here to stay, most of them for an inexorably long time. So where does that plastic go that you so diligently put in your recycling bin? In 2018 our country (that’s us alone), generated more than 35 million tons of plastic waste. Less than 10% got recycled. One can only assume the next report will be worse. The actual figure was 8.7%. 15.8% were incinerated. The good news? It is used for energy. The bad news? It creates greenhouse gasses in doing so. The rest of it, over 75% goes into landfills where either here or overseas, it wreaks havoc. With China recently having an anti-US hissy-fit, China, the largest taker of our trash, has told us to shove it. Now let’s take a look at what’s in the landfills and how long it’ll be there. 

Every year the world tosses five billion (that with a “B”) plastic bags. Most hang around for 500 years.

“I’ll take that to go, please?” More and more of us say that more and more often. The plastic food containers then go into the trash, into recycling, and then the landfills. The US of A produces 37% of all that worldwide waste.

Thirsty much? I guess so. Between 21 and 34 billion plastic bottles end up in the ocean—every single year. There they are ingested and kill wonderous species or they clog up waterways and otherwise defile the environment.

Like to shave on the go with those plastic razors? So do a lot of folks, men and women. In 2020 we tossed 158,100,00 of ‘em, just us. 

Back to the ‘frig. Now you have food left over. Gotta wrap it in something, so it doesn’t spoil, right? Every six months 196 million Americans go through at least one roll of Saran Wrap or it’s like. Follow the bouncing ball. Trash, recycling, landfill, environment. For those wrapped in it or who swallow it, it’s a terrible way to die. What to do? What to do? Well, I’m here to tell ya.

The first thing to know is that helping the planet is a pain in the neck. It’s a commitment one takes for the future of one’s children and grandchildren. That said…

  • Lose the plastic grocery bags. If you can’t do that pester your grocery to put up a recycling bin for them (Publix and Walmart have such a one). 
  • Ask for a paper bag option or bring your own cloth carry bags
  • Whatever liquid you can buy in a bottle, can, or paper, grab it.
  • Carry your own water bottle and reuse it, preferably one that is metal
  • Next car should be hybrid or electric
  • Use less toilet paper (oh yes you can) and fewer paper towels or
  • Dump paper towels and use rags and real, once upon-a-time live sponges for the dishes and for you in the shower or bath
  • On your trip take your real razor; do not use plastic disposable ones.
  • Are you a “to-go” person? Bring your own Tupperware type product
  • In the market if something needs to be wrapped ask for paper or aluminum foil

As Milton Berle used to say about jokes, “I gotta million of ‘em folks.” And so it is with these suggestions, but the best thing is to make ecology a family discussion. Let each member pick a subject area, some up with a list of suggestions for the family, then draw up a family commitment plan. Once done, you can feel proud of yourself and that’s a feeling you can’t buy.

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