"Plastic"


You're at the grocery store for your weekly haul. The bagger at checkout carefully wraps all of your already-heavily-packaged-in-plastic food items in single-use plastic bags, and he might even double-bag some of them. You place your bags in the cart, walk out to your car, load up your purchases, and make the short drive home. You unload and put away your groceries, and ball up your plastic bags and toss them in the trash... WAIT, WHAT? Single-use plastic bags have an average use-life of 12 minutes. 99% percent of them are sent to the landfill where they will sit for the rest of eternity (or at least the next several hundred years). Let's think on that for a minute...

Like many people today, I am concerned about the man-made problems plaguing our planet that will inevitably affect future generations and the world they'll inherit. One of the most pressing issues is our plastic problem. We have all likely seen the video of the fishermen pulling a plastic straw from the nose of a sea turtle with a pair of pliers, illustrating how our need for convenience has serious consequences that affect even the most remote and unsuspecting creatures on Earth.


When I was a kid, my mom recycled and encouraged me to do the same. It felt like I was doing something right. But there came a point when I realized that it wasn't enough, and my 'feel good' action did only that... it just made me feel good. I wasn't really doing anything helpful. I wasn't avoiding single-use plastic, I wasn't making conscious purchases or buying less in general, I wasn't advocating for change, I honestly didn't even know what happened to my items beyond seeing the trash/recycling truck pick them up. Something in me needed to change.


I have gone through stages of denial, frustration, and hopelessness when it comes to our enormous global plastic problem and my beliefs about my ability to "do something". I have shied away from learning about the plastic industry because it was easier to not know, and I was scared I would be devastated by what I'd learn. I have watched documentaries about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and felt like I am incapable or too insignificant to even hope to help remedy this huge problem. But I am starting to see that, although it is a gigantic, tragic problem, I have to educate myself, speak out, and act, because the Earth cannot speak for herself. Curling up in a ball and crying won't help me, or the planet, or anyone else.


Morgan Barrett Photography
Part of the 'Plastic Ocean' exhibit at the Smithsonian National Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C. | April 2019 | Photo: Morgan Barrett

So I put on my big girl pants and picked up the book Plastic by Susan Freinkel after watching the 60 Minutes special on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. (Trust me, the irony of the fact that this book is wrapped in a plastic sleeve is not lost on me.) I became absolutely engrossed in the story of our plastic obsession, as told by Freikel through her extensive research into the plastic industry. Her bravery in facing the facts and forcing her eyes wide open on this global issue inspired me. If she can look it in the face and find hope, maybe I can, too. Many of these pages have been painful to read because I am learning the sad truth about our increasing reliance on plastic and it's ubiquity in our daily lives. It. is. everywhere. It's in our clothes, cars, and televisions. It's in our walls and floors, beds and showe