No truer words have ever been spoken than those from the 1967 movie "The Graduate" to Benjamin Braddock, the graduate (played by Dustin Hoffman), from family friend Mr. McGuire:
Mr. McGuire: "I just want to say one word to you -- just one word."
Ben: "Yes sir."
Mr. McGuire: "Are you listening?"
Ben: "Yes I am."
Mr. McGuire: "Plastics."
Ben: "Exactly how do you mean?"
Mr. McGuire: "There's a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?"
Ben: "Yes I will."
Mr. McGuire's advice proved to be right on the money.
Plastic is in almost every aspect of our lives. It is used in the food and beverage industry, toiletries, furniture, construction, agriculture, automobiles, health care, electronics. You name it, it's there. It consumes more than 5 percent of the U.S. petroleum use and makes up about 12 percent of the solid waste we generate.
In 1960, plastics were less than 1 percent of the waste stream. Only about 10 percent of plastic is recycled. But an estimated 7 million tons ends up in the ocean each year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says marine debris "has become one of the most pervasive pollution problems facing the world's oceans and waterways."
Plastic pollution impacts marine life that ingests plastic particles mistaken for food and absorbs chemicals like BPA in plastics that make their way into the fish we consume.
Every time I read statistics like these, it jolts me into action and I rethink my plastic use.
Living a plastic-free life is not practical or even desired. There are instances where plastic is the best material for the job and many hidden uses of plastic have probably changed my life for the better. Consequently, my priorities are to reduce disposable plastic products.
The energy spent into extracting oil, or even raising plants for bio-plastics, and then turning it into a material that never biodegrades, pollutes waterways and used in one-time only applications is unsustainable. My husband and I have converted to reusable water bottles, shopping bags (my husband got his from Home Depot and Divers Direct), glass food containers, regular silverware and dishes for parties. When I can't reduce waste, I reuse, recycle or dispose of responsibly.
I admit to lapses. Next time I buy dishwasher detergent, I will buy the box, not the bottle. Cardboard is more easily recycled and made into more products than plastic.
Instead of disposable plastic lighters, I will use matches. A friend bought me some washable mesh produce bags to take to the store for my produce. My problem is I forget to take them with me even though I remember my shopping bags. So I end up with plastic produce bags, or I skip the bag.
At least owning a dog gives me the perfect reuse opportunity for poop bags. And yes, we do find plastic shopping bags useful for bagging messy food waste that I don't put into my composter.
Recently my husband converted a broken trash bin into a second composter by drilling aeration holes in the sides. Changing habits developed over decades is not easy. But whenever I go kayaking in Newfound Harbor, or as my husband puts it, our beautiful back yard, or read about the amount of trash the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary's Team Ocean has collected, it reminds me that a little effort on my part and others can make a difference and is worth it for us and our environment.
Shirley Gun is a member of the Keyswide nonprofit Green Living & Energy Education. She writes about green living and the four Rs -- reducing, reusing, recycling and rot (composting). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.