What Will Become of Us?

I was at the pool this morning, resting in the sauna following my aquafit class. As sweat poured down my face I looked out into the pool area. The place was full of happy, loud, exuberant kids — their year-end celebration at MacDonald Island Park. Seeing them made me think of my three grandchildren and I wondered what, if anything, they were doing today to celebrate the end of another school year.

Thinking of them made me suddenly wonder: what will become of them? Of us? Of this big, old, beautiful world?

Lately, I’ve been preoccupied with recycling, reusing and rethinking how I do things. How the things I do impacts the planet, impacts all the creatures I share it with. I try hard to recycle — have been for over 30 years. Sadly, I’ve come to find out that most of what I’ve saved from my landfill has simply made its way into someone else’s landfill. And, now, because there is such a glut of recyclable materials in the marketplace, companies are starting to refuse to take more. Municipalities are changing their recycling rules and reducing and restricting what can be placed in a blue box. I’m being forced to pollute.

When I shop I look for products that have minimal packaging so that I am not adding to the 8 billion tons of plastic that makes its way into the environment. I use cloth/reusable grocery bags, severely limit my use of plastic produce bags and when I do have to use them I generally reuse ones I’ve had forever. I try to make as much of our food as possible; try to remember to say “no straw, please”; carry my own water bottle, take my own travel mug when I’m on the road; wear my clothes til they’re rags, try to purchase clothes made from natural fibres, and on and on and on.

My point, now that I’m getting around to it is this: when I looked at those happy kids playing in this fantastic aquatic centre I saw how impossible it is for people to really change, to do what needs to be done if we are going to save our world for the millenia to come.

My bathing suit — and the hundreds of other bathing suits covering all those bodies in the water — is made of polyester and other man-made fibres. Billions of tiny microscopic fibres that will never break down were being shed into the water, then filtered out into the water system. Those tiny particles will make their way into our drinking water, our soft drinks, our beer. They will accumulate in our bodies. Maybe we won’t starve to death like the whales, seals, porpoises and sea-birds that we’re inundated daily with on social media, but one day all that gunk is going to wreak havoc on our bodies.

But what are we supposed to wear? Baggy, saggy cotton suits? Or, should we completely forsake things like public pools? There isn’t a square foot in the building that doesn’t contain something made of plastic. The slides, the lane markers, the flags, the diving platforms, the race stands, the nets, the life preservers, the whistles, the pool liners. It’s all made of some form of plastic. And if we were to decide that pools were verboten, then what? What do we do with all that stuff?

It’s not just public pools, either. It’s everything. All the advances that have been made to simplify our lives, to make them more enjoyable, more fulfilling, more meaningful, have contributed greatly to the slow and steady destruction of the very thing we wish to see and have more of — life.

Despite this gloomy outlook, I don’t feel completely hopeless. Everyday, people are waking up to the idea that this world and all it has to offer is finite. Entire countries are banning the use of disposable plastics like bags, cutlery and straws. Individuals from all over the world and from all walks of life are trying to effect change within their personal lives. They are writing companies and governments and manufacturers and demanding that changes be made in how products are packaged and sold. Entrepreneurs are starting businesses that are focused on cleaning up shorelines, trails and parks.

I hope, and I tentatively believe, that solutions to our pollution problems will be made. Probably not in what’s left of my lifetime, but not that far off, either.

Sitting there in the sauna, in my cute, but bad for the environment bathing suit, I thought I could envision a future where kids could still enjoy a day of fun at the local pool.

Day 82 – Purge the Plastic

This past weekend we took in our recyclables to the recycling station a few blocks away. I have been recycling for years. It can get to be tiresome – all that rinsing, sorting and storing, but it’s become such a habit that I’d feel guilty if I didn’t.

For the last little while I’ve really been focused on how much plastic we use. Not just personally, but collectively.

I understand that plastic has its uses and that it serves some very good purposes and that, without it, certain aspects of modern life would not be possible.

But, do we really need to individually wrap cucumbers and packages of cookies and crackers? Are little individual plastic encased pieces of cheese truly an advancement we can’t live without?

When I go grocery shopping I’m extremely conscious and picky about what I buy and how it’s packaged. If something comes in a cello-wrapped box and its contents are in turn cello-or-plastic wrapped – it ain’t ever going in my cart.

When I buy produce I rarely use those plastic produce bags. And if I do, I bring ones that I’m reusing or I use the cloth ones I bought especially for that use.

It is annoying to the cashiers, I’ve noticed, when they have to pick up my lettuce or celery and it’s not in a bag, and when they attempt to stick it in a bag and I stop them they get even more testy. I had one of them ask me one time if I wasn’t concerned about germs. I would be, I said, if I wasn’t going to wash everything once I got it home. She just glared at me.

The truth is we’ve become so tricked into thinking that covering our food in plastic is somehow preventing us from coming in contact with germs and dirt and bacteria. The only reason that plastic is there is to ensure less spoilage losses for growers, transporters and retailers.

Think about it – when summer comes and we all flock to farmer’s markets we’re not looking to buy fruits and veggies that are all wrapped in plastic,  are we?  No.  We want unwrapped produce that we can pick up, look at, smell and even taste. We bring our own bags and we happily pack our purchases into them. Why should shopping at a grocery store be any different?

The amount of plastic pollution in our world is staggering. It is a blight on the landscape and it’s poisoning our oceans, rivers and seas. The companies producing all this plastic are doing little to nothing to provide solutions to dealing with the waste their industry produces. Individuals and small concerned groups are trying to effect change, but in reality their efforts are miniscule in comparison to the problem.

A while ago I contacted Costco and asked them to reconsider how they send out their consumer magazine and flyers. Use a paper wrapper, I suggested, instead of encasing it in plastic. Costco, supposedly prides itself on how they contribute to environmental concerns. I have yet to receive a response.

Just yesterday, I sent an email to a clothing manufacturer. J.a.c.h.s Girlfriend, out of New York. I thanked them for making a very nice article of clothing, but I also thanked them for not attaching the extra button in a tiny plastic bag on a tiny plastic string. Instead, they sewed it to the washing instructions tag. Awesome.

Every little thing.

The next time you go shopping, do the world a favour, and send a message to manufacturers and distributors,  leave the plastic behind.