Before Christmas I posted my joy at rediscovering AMAC Plastic Boxes at the Container Store. A childhood favorite, they seemed to me modern design perfection: useful, colorful, cheap. But I was brought up short by the very first comment:
Edward: I can't help but think, "Yikes. More plastic for the landfill (or the gyre)."No plastic at all? I wondered, and then ordered some Duplo for my son. It came in a plastic tub, fine and useful for storage (although its size camoflaged the true volume of product, much like a cereal box) but within the tub each 10 Duplo blocks were sealed in their own plastic bags. Not sorted by color or size or shape, as if from different production lines. Just separate. I wondered if bulk Duplo sales were a next step.
A few weeks later Marian Bantjes posted Plastics: An Apoplexy on the main DO blog. Her subtitle made clear she was talking about plastic packaging, excessive protection, waste, but again, the comments upped the ante.
Jennie Morris: I have been reading a blog written by a woman who is trying to live her life without platics, for health and environmental reasons. http://plasticmanners.wordpress.com/And again:
Amy: Those that dislike all the plastic in our everyday lives will appreciate the blog http://myplasticfreelife.com/
davec: Maybe we should start by not purchasing the little AMAC plastic boxes espoused in this very website...I thought again, No plastic at all? I've seen the photos of garbage dumps from space, read about the underage landfill pickers, seen the strangled seafowl. I understand the crusade for minimal packaging, since that is trash. I understand the crusade for recyclable plastics. I understand Italy's plastic bag ban (though I don't get why it is such a cultural change; supermarkets there have charged for bags for over a decade). I understand why I don't microwave in plastic anymore, why I have to buy all new BPA-free bottles for my next baby, why I carry a nylon tote bag. I bought reusable sandwich bags as stocking stuffers. I also understand these are minor efforts.
There were good reasons plastic was invented, and there are good reasons to use it still: lightness, durability, moldability. Thinking about no plastic leads me to a river of questions. Which computer do you use in your plastic-free life? If I were to switch to bulk foods and my own glass jars, as another commenter suggests, how would I get those jars, car-free, to the store and back? I've looked at wooden toys for my child many times and rejected them: a wooden push car is too heavy for most one-year-olds, wooden blocks dent, glass bottles spook me. Excuses, excuses, yes, but how does the car seat--or the bike seat, or the bike helmet--of the future avoid plastic?
What I need, before I withdraw those AMAC boxes from my admiration, is for someone to investigate what it would mean to live in a world with no plastic, and what the unintended consequences might be. It would be a version of the kind of investigation that reveals it is better to buy and mulch a real Christmas tree than to buy and reuse an artifical tree or that, environmentally speaking, disposable diapers and cloth diapers have the same impact. (I nominate Rob Walker, since he works for a magazine with a budget for real reporting, and is now co-running the Unconsumption Tumblr.)
It may be my eight years at a Quaker school with no grades, no competitive sports, no calculus class that makes me so dubious about no. And I'll admit, a plastic-free life sounds hard. But I will cave and start stitching my own toys, once I understand why a blanket no is necessary.