The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
December 6, 2007

I think we all do that sometimes

Beth is away at a three-and-a-half day meditation retreat. She goes on these about twice a year, at a convent in Marin County called Santa Sabina, and they’re very good for her, if only because she spends a large part of the time she’s supposed to be meditating sleeping, and she desperately needs some sleep after staying up till dawn most days writing this blog.

In her absence, I’ll be writing today’s post. Who am I? Her husband, Michael. If you’ve been reading this blog regularly, you’ll have seen mention of me. I also comment fairly frequently under the name “terrible person”, which is a name I used to use on a local BBS back in the 90’s. This was actually where Beth and I first encountered each other and attracted each other’s interest. You’ve got to hand it to a woman who would be interested in a guy who calls himself “terrible person”. But then, you should have seen the things *she* was writing. But I digress. All the time, in fact. Anyway, this feels a little like one of those “Family Circus” comic strips in which cartoonist Bil Keane purports to have let his eternally three-year-old son Billy fill in and draw.

People sometimes ask me, and ask Beth, “What is it like for Michael? How does he feel about your efforts to make people aware of the pervasiveness and dangers of plastic, and to reduce, reuse, and recycle around the house that you share?”

Well, it’s not always easy. But I think it’s worth it. First of all, Beth spends an extraordinary amount of time on this blog. I hope you all appreciate how hard she works on it, all while working three and a half days a week as a bookkeeper. It would be so great if she did not have to work, or could make this her job, so that she could devote herself to this full-time. Of course, part of the reason Beth stays up all night working on this blog is that she simply likes staying up all night. She’s nocturnal. Some people are. (Me, I like to get up before six a.m. and go running or swimming. And I zonk out around eleven.) And Beth tends to immerse herself totally in one activity at a time, for a few months to a year. This involves reading everything she can on the subject, buying all the equipment needed for it, keeping accurate statistics (arranged in spreadsheets, or reported on a blog) of her progress with it, etc., most of this done late at night. Before plastic, it was running. Before running, it was knitting, or watching movies. So it’s not as if I saw that much more before she started FPF, so I can’t really blame it. Besides, it’s important. To her, but also to the world.

I keep thinking that eventually, Beth will get tired of blogging about plastic, and move on to something else. I mean, we’re getting two kittens soon! Who would want to blog when there are kittens to play with? But this time, I think it might be different. I think Beth will stick with the plastics project for a while. A big reason for that is the feedback she receives from you. Having consistent readers, who really care what she has to say, really means a lot to her and encourages her.

Besides the time she spends researching and writing about plastic, and sorting it out at home, there’s the other issue. Beth has set herself very firm rules about the use of products made from plastic or packaged in it (as well as the use of many other commercial products, such as household cleaners.) Beth constantly asserts that her rules are only for herself. But it can be hard to live with someone observing such rules without being affected by them.

Let me say, though, that I have never been a huge user of plastic. I don’t buy a lot of take-out food, or packaged food: I tend to eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. I’m not a typical American consumer. I’ve never owned a car; I use my bicycle, my feet, or public transportation. (Well, I get a free ride to work in the “casual carpool” — but that’s just too convenient to pass up.) But I have my own reasons for many of these behaviors. I can’t stand waste. I can’t stand to see usable stuff thrown out: food, clothing, petroleum. Time, for that matter. Especially when there is an advantage in conserving, such as saving money. I pick up plastic bottles on the street, because every few months, I bring a big bag of them to the recycling center and get a few bucks back in redemption money. Redemption! I used to drink out of polycarbonate bottles, until I learned about leaching and outgassing. So in general, I see Beth’s efforts to reduce plastic use in our house as something very positive, that will improve my health, and I’m glad for it.

Sometimes, though, plastic is just so convenient. I like to eat cottage cheese – it’s all in plastic tubs. They’re recyclable, but recycling is a poor alternative to avoiding use in the first place. And when I’ve broken down and bought something plastic, and I come home with it, and Beth seems so disappointed and disapproving, as if I’ve brought pork into a Kosher home, and tells me, in case I bought it to share, that she will not be partaking, it can be very frustrating, and guilt-inducing. But then, I think how it must be for her. She’s trying so hard to reduce plastic use. And here is *her husband*, who of all people should be supporting her, bringing plastic into the house, ruining her attempts to bring her consumption to zero, totally throwing off her statistics — but more than that, doing something that is bad for the environment, and bad for me.

The reason I can understand this is that I experience it myself. I work at a large law firm, as a librarian. The attorneys work very hard, and make a lot of money. The staff, especially the secretaries, also work very hard, and don’t make anywhere near what the lawyers make. The firm provides all sorts of refreshments to keep us going, hard at work: coffee, soda, granola bars (individually wrapped), packets of instant oatmeal, etc. Attorney meetings are typically held over lunch, which is ordered from local caterers, in individual plastic containers or big plastic trays. The bottom floor of our high-rise building, and the surrounding downtown San Francisco neighborhood, is full of takeout restaurants, from which people are always ordering, often in styrofoam boxes, because they don’t have time to make their own food. We have water coolers that dispense wonderful filtered, chilled tap water (not from big polycarbonate bottles), but most people drink the individual bottles the firm also provides. What this means is that there is a huge amount of waste being generated in our offices. And this drives me nuts.

Unfortunately, the argument that I use on myself to conserve, saving money, doesn’t work at a place where the attorneys bill six hundred or more dollars an hour to put together multimillion dollar deals. Reduction, reuse, and recycling are very low priorities. Part of it is apathy: people just don’t care enough to use real dishes and metal cutlery instead of paper bowls and plastic forks, or to actually think for a moment, before tossing their waste, whether it goes in the recycling bin or the trash, or actually to read the signs placed on the waste bins indicating what should go in each. Someone else will clean it up. But perhaps even worse is the other part, ignorance. People just don’t know. They don’t understand that food-soiled paper can’t be recycled, or that most plastic can’t be either, so they toss it in with the recycling, contaminating it and likely rendering it unsellable, all the while congratulating themselves on having done their part. And I sometimes get really angry at this. But then I remember, these people work very hard all day. They have long commutes; they have children, parents, themselves to take care of. Sometimes, you just can’t think about what you’re doing. I know this, because I don’t always. *I* get tired, *I* find myself in a hurry, *I* just want to be able to have my food or my drink and not have to get up and go to the kitchen and clean my mug or my bowl and fill it up … And I’m like this when I’m shopping for home, too, or when I’m there.

Back in 1987, when I was in college, I worked as a bike messenger in Boston. One of my fellow messengers was a guy, a kid really, probably not even eighteen, named Matt Cook, and he was completely nuts. He rode broken-down three-speeds, each lasting a few weeks before it collapsed or he crashed it, faster than I could go on my new mountain bike. In social situations, his contributions to conversations took the form of one comment, an unchanging rejoinder to any utterance by anyone else: “I think we *all* do that sometimes.” No matter what anyone said, that would be his response, relevant or not. The funny thing was, sometimes it would be incredibly relevant. It would be exactly what needed to be said. And then it was so nice to be able to count on him to say it.

The point is, we’re all on a continuum. I use far less plastic than the people with whom I work, than most Americans. Beth uses far less plastic than I do. But even she slips occasionally, for instance, if I buy Haig’s hummus. Or this continuum has many dimensions. Beth may use less plastic than I, but I never rent cars. Whatever. The important thing to remember is that, as Matt Cook would say … well, you know. It’s not a competition. And none of us will be perfect. It’s just important for each of us to do as much as he or she can. The more a person does, the better it will be for him- or herself and the world. Beth understands that I’m trying. I understand that *she’s* trying.

I had hoped to discuss some other issues, and to include some photos in this post, and polish up the writing a bit more, but it’s getting late and I need to get to bed so I can get up and swim a mile and a half tomorrow morning and then go to work and organize my colleagues to put on a performance at the firm’s annual holiday party. So I’ll be signing off, hoping this was coherent and senseful. But I want you all to know how much I appreciate your support of Beth, and how much *she* appreciates it. I wish you all good luck, and an enjoyable late fall/early winter, and I’ll look forward to reading your comments.

17 comments
Anonymous
Anonymous

My sister was hospitalized for 13 months before dying from luekemia.She was in an isolation room which means that every single time a doctor,nurse,vistor,cleaning person-anyone came in her room they had to wear a plasticky isolaton gown,gloves and sometimes a mask.It also meant that anything that came in had to be thrown away.Newspapers,water bottles,ect.They took out about 8 or so giant bags of trash a day.I would look at that and then think,all of the patients on the floor had the same situation,why bother trying so dang hard to reduce my plastic intake when it seemed so impossible. I guess we just all do what we can.

nollij
nollij

Michael, I too worked with a guy who was famous for his oft used quotes: it all rubbed off on me and now *I* do it. Great post! I'm a new reader, but I love the work and I've already linked to it in http://nollij.blogspot.comPlease post again sometime!Beth - you do great work: keep it up and I'll keep reading!

Jason
Jason

These are the same battles I fight. If you could just get folks to take the extra 5 seconds to think "trash or recycle?" Great blog! I appreciate your efforts. Keep up the good work. If everyone makes just small changes, they will eventually add up.

Mark
Mark

Hi Michael,Thanks for covering the blog!Beth did get a little extra sleep- no thanks to having to listen to my snoring- Cheers to the both of you for doing the best you can- It's always a treat to learn something new on FPF.

Beth in the Fake Plastic Fish Tank
Beth in the Fake Plastic Fish Tank

Thank you, Terrible Person, for that awesome post. I'm so happy to be married to you!Just one thing... it's not really fair for you to tell tales about standing for the playing of "Born To Run" in high school when I'm out of town with no access to a computer and can't debunk you for three days! Consider yourself debunked.And thanks to everyone who left such nice comments. I think I'll ask him to post again some time.

homeschoolmom
homeschoolmom

I was really struck by your comments re: the wastefulness at your workplace. I went thru this in the early 90's and was fortunate to have a boss who let me loose to "green" the entire bank (50 branches!!). Didn't appreciate the opportunity as being as unique as it was at the time. Now my dh is facing a similar situation and finding a real lack of support at upper levels for even getting blue recycling bins. It can be so very discouraging. So, I offer a quote (as best I can recall) from Ghandi: "Be the change you want to see." I don't think I'll ever truly eliminate all the plastic crap from my life, but I will try. I'm certainly more mindful and I'm showing my kids another way of looking at the world.

terrible person
terrible person

And here is an article about Honest Tea's dirty little secret, plastic packaging.

terrible person
terrible person

Hey look! New Jersey is looking to ban plastic bags! New Jersey rules! See, I grew up in New Jersey.Another little-known fact about New Jersey: when I was in middle and high school in the 80's, at the beginning of each day we were required to stand while "Born to Run" was played over the P.A. system.

LifeLessPlastic
LifeLessPlastic

Excellent post!! I know exactly what you mean about working in a big office. You see so much waste all the time, and it just drives you insane. For example, my company provides us with silverware, plates, and glasses in the kitchen, but I always see people using plastic silverware, paper plates, and paper cups anyway. It's ridiculous. I think they do this because a) they're too lazy to bring the dirty dishes back to the kitchen, or b) they are so germ-o-phobic that they don't trust our ultra-nice dishwasher to do a good job. Either way, though, it seems that my co-workers don't think of the consequences of their decisions and desperately need to be educated on how their lifestyles effect the environment...........Okay, sorry about the rant. I think I'm done.Anyways, I think it is great that you are so supportive of Beth in what she is doing. I find her blog and archive of information incredibly helpful, so I am really glad that you understand what she's doing, even when she spends many hours doing it :)

heather t
heather t

Nice post, terrible person. I enjoy reading your comments as well. I hope you will guest-host again some time.Your mention of the law firm's waste reminded me of the Teacher Appreciation Week breakfasts put on at our kids' school last year. The mom who coordinated it brought in tons of pretty china plates, real metal utensils, and real glass, uh, glasses. All five days.All of it was more mismatched than not, but the overall effect was pleasing in an eclectic sort of way, and I know the teachers enjoyed using real dinnerware instead of paper and plastic.I'm sure the lawyers and staff at your firm would love that too, and mismatched dinnerware is easy to find at garage sales, charity shops, and FreeCycle. The only drawback is finding someone to do the dishes! (Parent volunteers did them for the teachers' breakfast, but I'm not sure that would fly at a big law firm.)That's what I love about this blog - I can't apply every single thing to my life because our circumstances are different, but I usually find something that kicks off another idea that I can use. I do read every post from Beth, just don't always have time to comment.

axelle
axelle

You're an interesting guy, terrible person, and you're going to be a great kitten father. Thank you for writing today's blog.Re posting comments on Beth's blog: I'll bet there are dozens, if not hundreds of readers of this blog who are too shy, writing-impaired, or busy to post a comment. I have written responses to many of Beth's blogs but after previewing them, I realize, to quote Matt Cook, "I think we all do that sometimes", and don't send the post. As long as Beth keeps writing this blog, it'll be an inspiration for change in my life. I look forward to kitten news!

Raskil
Raskil

Hi Michael! I'm new to this blog but I already am loving the HIGH QUALITY information I find in the archives. Like I said in my previous comment, Beth is ahead of the curve and in these days where blogs influences elections, her efforts are definitely making a real impact!I can relate with both of you in the sense that I have always been somewhat a tree hugger and this led me to pursue formal coursework in environmental policy. Being a pragmatic/logical but hyperactive guy who is up to the wee hours of the morning, I also find myself juggling multiple projects in name of social justice and environmentalism. I get so absorbed that I find myself consuming more than I should have. On the other hand, my long-time girlfriend have embraced the plastics-free lifestyle to a much larger degree than I have... perhaps it is because she owns the kitchen and truly love cooking from scratch with her o'powerful KitchenAid mixer. Yet, we both have our own cars which I drive much less than she does.I interned at Deliotte & Consulting in Washington DC and was appalled at the amount of waste generated by these preoccupied venture capitalists so I can sympathize with your observations of the patterns within the law firm. I have had limited success in encouraging co-workers to order from vendors that has agreed to adopt environmentally friendly practices. When ordering take-out, I ask them to leave out certain things like plastic silverware. After a while, they automatically do this for you. Once you have this reputation, you might be able to leverage it further with your co-workers. This seems to work better than to expect the co-workers to put forth the effort themselves on an ongoing basis.The bottom line is essentially that we must necessarily do what life requires us to do and reduce our impact whenever possible. I don't think it is possible to actually reduce our lifestyle into a simple equation. Therefore, competition is impossible. Does this make sense or am I rambling? :)Mega kudos to both of you for working together in your own fashion to make this blog possible!

Beany
Beany

Very nice post. The situation is similar in my household, where I am sending my husband all the literature about the latest environmental catastrophe that I should, individually, do something about it. He is very helpful, and does get appropriately guilty when he veers from my crazy rules (such as purchasing organic tomatoes in a can - tomatoes aren't in season and they had to undergo all this processing to get to our house - and the polar bears will all die because of this one purchase). But as you mentioned, it is a continuum. I had to gain awareness gradually to get to where I am. And since all these environmental activities do make me feel useful, I plan on continuing to do the same.

har mar
har mar

this is a nice post. and TWO kittens! Beth says I can come play with your kittens. But i know she's probably thinking only if i bring over cupcakes. and im thinking done and done. when will you guys be getting your new kittens?

kitty
kitty

This post made me smile. I really, really like this blog and want to give some encouragement. It's one of the most well-researched, scientific blogs and I trust it as a good source of enviromental advice and discussion. I'm pretty good about plastic consumption, but it's definitely helped me be more educated about recycling - a necessity given that it's virtually impossible to completely eliminate plastics from our lives no matter how hard we try! Anyway, Beth (and Michael), your blog is important. Your blog makes a difference. Keep up the fight! THANK YOU!

Anonymous
Anonymous

Great post! I tend to be the "all or nothing" type at times, so it's a good reminder that my family is doing the best they can to adjust to my no plastic policies. I really love Beth's blog and read it daily, she does a great job and inspires me to reduce my plastic consumption everyday. Thanks for your comments and contribution to Fake Plastic Fish.