What the Fark?

This Monday, I was happy to be the subject of an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer by Green Space columnist Sandy Bauers and quite pleased with her article, “She wants to say 2 words: No Plastics,” and followup blog post, “Purging the Plastics.” I was especially honored to be interviewed by Bauers because she “gets it.” Green Space is her column about how to reduce your carbon footprint in everyday life. It appears every other Monday in Health & Science. I stumbled upon Sandy’s year-end article, “Doing The Little Things That Will Save The World,” and was particularly delighted that her #1 and #2 steps were plastic-related: Shop with reusable bags and Drink tap water.

Well, the thrill of the article lasted through this morning when I got an email from Michael telling me that Sandy’s piece had made the front page of Fark.com. Now, I had never heard of Fark until this morning, and based on what I’ve seen there, I don’t think my life has been any less rich for the lack. Still, as I read each mostly negative comment, my heart sank progressively lower. Not because I took the comments personally. How can I? Their authors don’t know me. The comments are a reflection of the writers, really. But it’s just so disheartening to know that such hatred and bitterness and plain ignorance exist in this world.

So, okay, I’m done whining. Some of the comments are actually pretty funny in their caustic way, especially if I imagine they are directed at some other plastic-free blogger who is not me. Love the photos of and references to plastic blow-up dolls, although Michael wasn’t so thrilled about them. (My knight.)

If you have followed the links from Fark.com and found your way to this blog, I’d like to try and answer some of the more glaring misperceptions.

First, many people seem to believe that recycling plastic will solve the problem. Recycling plastic is important, but it’s better referred to as downcycling. Plastic containers, for example, are not recycled into new containers but into other products like lumber or outdoor furniture. Even the plastic yogurt containers recycled by responsible companies like Recycline into toothbrushes and cutting boards are actually downcycled, since the manufacturers of the yogurt containers continue to extract virgin materials for their disposable products.

Furthermore, recycling is a business like any other. Curbside recyclers must find markets for the materials they collect. The biggest market for plastics is China, so most of our plastic is shipped overseas. Unfortunately, China doesn’t necessarily have the same standards of worker and community safety as we do, and towns like Lian Jiao have become toxic waste dumps for our plastic “recycling.” Sky News recently released a video showing the heartbreaking condition of this town that has become the waste bin of the western world.

But with the recent downturn in the economy, the Chinese market has dried up, and as the NY Times reported in December 2008, much of our recycling is actually ending up in the landfill.

What’s the solution? Reducing our consumption of disposable plastic! Finding plastic-free alternatives to plastic and switching to reusable bags, bottles and containers are first steps to solving the plastic problem.

Second, there is a common misperception that if the plastic Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Gyre were such a problem, we should be able to see it from space. Unfortunately, this is not the case. I say unfortunately because if it were so visible, it would probably generate much more attention. In reality, the particles of plastic are so small and extend to such a wide area that they are nearly impossible to clean up. Expedition crews have collected fragments using trawls that skim the surface of the ocean. So what’s the big deal about such tiny pieces of plastic?

Sadly, they are entering our food chain as they are caught in the zoo plankton, the lowest level of the food chain, and are then eaten by bigger and bigger fish. There are also pre-production plastic particles, sometimes referred to as “nurdles” that resemble the fish eggs that are food for many marine creatures. According to researchers who studied the gyre this past winter, there are areas in which the ratio of plastic to plankton is 46:1. A great article to read for an introduction to the problems of plastic in the marine environment is “Plastic Ocean”.

Third, many commenters had funny things to say about the first sentences of the article which referred to my making homemade mustard to avoid plastic mustard containers. First of all, I am well aware that there are brands of mustard that come in glass jars. The real point is to avoid all types of unnecessary packaging. Here’s the recipe. The mustard powder and seeds are sold in bulk bins at Whole Foods with zero packaging if you bring your own container. Just mix with vinegar and spices. Easy easy. Many folks do it from scratch just because it tastes better.

Fourth, “She’s dumb. I hate her.” I just wanted to copy that one because it makes me smile. Reminds me of my brother, and that’s all I’m going to say.

Fifth, “I often wonder what I could do to make the world a litle better, just as this woman is trying to do. Then I realize that I don’t really give a rats ass about any of it.” Okay, that one makes me laugh and cry at the same time.

Sixth, getting serious again. Chemicals leaching from plastics into our food is indeed a problem. In addition to phthalates from PVC, styrene from polystyrene, and Bisphenol-A from polycarbonate, there are other possible leaching problems associated with PET and PP plastics (#1 and #5).

Seventh, glad some of you are worried about the glass straws breaking. Actually, they are made from a super strong glass that is guaranteed not to break. The company is called GlassDharma, and they are actually very cool.

Eighth, regarding plastic for medical reasons. Obviously, if I needed a blood transfusion, I would be grateful for the plastic blood bag. I would not, however, be thrilled about the DEHP leaching from the bag into the blood and into me. There are safer plastics for medical uses, and many hospitals are switching to them.

Ninth, regarding the “bareback” comment. Don’t do it. I’ve addressed that issue here. Enough said.

Tenth, oh forget it. I’m tired and have to go to bed. I haven’t even reached the second page of comments. Questions? Please ask me directly. Or ask some of the authors of the blogs linked on my sidebar. Happily, I am not the only plastic-free “complete nutter” out here. Our numbers are growing!

Oh, and P.S. There were a few very nice comments. Thank you. You know who you are.

53 comments
karen gravereaux
karen gravereaux

i make my own ketchup. not even because i'm a manic reducerreuserrecycler. i just can't stand the sweetness of commercial ketchups. only very recently have you been able to find unsweetened ones in a store (and they aint cheap).

Woman with a Hatchet
Woman with a Hatchet

Hey Beth!I've actually been reading your blog on and off for awhile now, but popped in today from your guest post at Crunchy Domestic Goddess' place.First, I'm very sorry your camera was stolen. I know it's heart breaking to lose your gear, but most especially your photos.Second, I think the work you're doing is inspiring to MANY, even if the folks that responded to you on Fark are not your base. Keep in mind just how many lurkers YOU have and just imagine how many THEY must have. I lurk there occasionally, too. You've probably inspired more of them to change their ways than you may ever know.Third, related to being inspiring, it is your blog and the information you provide about things like the gyre and HOW to live plastic free that inspired me to reduce the amount of plastic in my life, too. To that end, among other changes, I have started making fresh bread every day from the recipes over at Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. When I looked at the sheer amount of bread products my family was going through on a weekly basis (bought in bulk, 2 loaves whole wheat, each individually wrapped, then the pair wrapped in a 3rd bag, the same for bagels AND English muffins) and the overflowing number of bread bags we were amassing (and reusing for cleaning the cat boxes), I knew I had to do something. We already compost, grow our own veggies, recycle and so on. Getting rid of plastic is the next step in our continuing greening.I just wanted to thank you for your part in opening my eyes to the plastic problem.Oh and if you love pitas, if you give the AB5M recipes a whirl, you'll find they make pitas too. I just made some yesterday and they're fantastic! No plastic bags required.

Christi
Christi

well isn't this all ridiculous?! I found out about you being the target of a "hate campaign" though my friend Lisa Sharp. I am no where near as educated as either of the two of you when it comes to plastic but I am trying! I am sickened and terrified at what is being leached into my children and am attempting to purge plastic from our everyday life as well. Keep your chin up! From experience, progressive and productive thinking isn't too widely accepted. Remember, people are sheep, the blind leading the blind and they will go to proverbial (or literal in some cases) war for something without any need for explanation. Just because the one in front of them is doing it. Keep up the good fight. Our kids need a place to live!

College Kid
College Kid

I found your blog last March and you totally inspired me! (And educated me.) I have made big changes because I read your blog. I am not plastic-free yet, but I am much LESS plastic. I think by volume I have cut it down to 25% - 30% of my former consumption. I used to think "It's recyclable, so it's ok" but thanks to you, I know it's not. Thank you Beth!

mrs green
mrs green

I just wanted to add my voice to support for you Beth. I think it's so sad that you had to read all these negative comments, when you are doing something so amazing and worthwhile.I know you won't let them grind you down, and I hope you're feeling GREAT about yourself and managing to keep the comments in perspective.You deserve nothing but respect for all that you do to care for our environment.

Joules
Joules

Beth,I'm sorry you've been subjected to the asinine comments from those folks - most of those people would never have the nerve to say those things if they were actually accountable for their words. They're just hiding behind internet anonymity. We all appreciate your posts and are inspired by your dedication and ideas. Don't let them get you down!

blondeoverboard
blondeoverboard

beth,i read the first page of the fark comments, after that i was too disgusted and bored with the lowbrow tone to go further. when it comes to many of those comments, consider the source and just keep doing what you've been doing all along. thanks to what we've learned from you and your effort, my sons now consider packaging and look for the best alternatives when shopping....and they're 11 & 14

tangledhair
tangledhair

Wow, Beth, I was just thinking about you this afternoon and how you had embarked on what I'm sure had intended to be a relatively light journey and instead have become a sort of spokesperson for all manner of environmental and plastics issues. I just think it's so great that you are a regular, nice person who made a series of changes, that turned into more changes, that turned into an entire rethinking of the way you live your life-- AND THEN put it all out here for others to read and learn and be inspired by... and just how wonderful it is. Lacking pretension, the changes you've made are the sorts of things that anyone could do, and you press on with such positivity. And it's just wonderful.And so I was thinking about that, and then I came to your blog and read about this Fark thing, and well, I guess I thought I should tell you that some random person you've never met in person was thinking good things about you today.Take care.

Brande
Brande

Screw Fark, you rock! The impact you have, not only on the environment but on people is phenomenal. And Kudos to you for taking such harsh criticism as well as you did. It takes a strong and confident woman to handle that with grace.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Beth, you are one of my heros. My family and I has been actively changing the way we do things, the things we purchase (or not purchase), and the things we make to avoid plastic and downcycling because of you! Keep up the good work! Andrea

Anonymous
Anonymous

Beth,#1 - I support what you are doing and taking notes.#2 - FARK is like a lover; you have to love it for its charm, and its many...many...faults.#3 - Don't stop.All the best,GeorgeBurnsP.S. - Their asses are pasty and flat - not yours!

Anonymous
Anonymous

All those people are either ignorant or just plain jerks. Keep up the good work because you are truly amazing and inspiring to many people

Anonymous
Anonymous

All those comments came from people that are either ignorant or they are just plain jerks. Keep up the good work, you are truly amazing!

plasticfreela
plasticfreela

Hi Beth,Thank you for what you do and for being an inspiration to us other plastic reductionists! I am very saddened by the Fark comments (and also mad). I don't understand why people don't get why plastic is soo bad for us and the environment. I guess we just need to do more education, education, education.-Erin

mother earth aka karen hanrahan
mother earth aka karen hanrahan

This reminds me ever so much of my "burger" post. Months later it's still trolled. I think you stated perfectly - these folks don't know you. I felt like I wanted to shout from the rooftops, hey ...wait a minute, only to realize folks like these are not my readership. Their comments speak for themselves.

Citizen Green
Citizen Green

You asked "What the Fark?". I can tell you after reading some of their comments that Fark has many angry, mean readers. Do not waste your time or energy thinking about these negative people. You have encouraged and educated many people - with a positive attitude. I can't imagine you reading an article and then saying you hate the author. Keep up the good blogging and activism. I need for you to do that.Linda A

Lara S.
Lara S.

I don't want to bore you by repeating what the other readers have said so clearly, so I'll just say: you know there are people who support you no matter what, so please don't pay any attention to those who offend you :-)You've taught me so much so far... I can only say *THANK YOU*!

Elizabeth
Elizabeth

Don't worry about people saying crap on fark, it's one of the places in the internet where people go to unleash all their nastiness, sarcasm, and juvenile instincts, so that they can be responsible adults the rest of the time. It's carthartic, I swear! There are quite a few sites with that culture, actually. If you need an outlet, I can give you a few links. :)Basically, they aren't actually trying to get you down, it's just the way they talk there.

KiteFlyingSociety
KiteFlyingSociety

HelloI found a link to your blog from fark and I think it is the coolest thing I've heard about all dayI'm sorry my fellow farkers were mean to you, they're just bored and snarky, don't give it too much credenceReading your story really made me think about the ammount of plastics I use in my daily life. I think we're doing reasonably well- but what about all my plastic bags from bulk foods at Winco (don't know if they have WinCo where you live but they are a bulk/bins store)? Do you think they allow you to bring your own cloth bags or at least re-use the old ones? Any ideas here?I also have a blog at 14thstfarm.blogspot.com where I am attempting to chronicle my adventures in converting to a more earth friendly DIY lifestyle and I plan on writing about you today so swing by if you feel like itThanks for what you are doingElizabeth

Martin at Plasticless
Martin at Plasticless

"Some of the comments are actually pretty funny in their caustic way, especially if I imagine they are directed at some other plastic-free blogger who is not me."Ok, to balance out the Universe I will read the Farking comments and imagine that they are directed at me :)

Condo Blues
Condo Blues

It's obvious that the Fark message boards are unmoderated. I usually find that most post on unmoderated boards turn into flame wars of ugliness. Their personal attacks on you are unwarranted and just plain mean. Civilized people can disagree and still be polite about it. These farggen iceholes aren't civilized. I applaud you for answering them - most people don't have the guts to do that!

Maggie
Maggie

Hi,I had a friend forward me the link to the Philly article saying it reminded her of my "quest" (her words not mine.) It's funny because reading about the gyre is actually what got me thinking about disposable plastic too. You are doing a much better job of ridding them from your life than I though. Props to you.

Mark
Mark

MissBeth,You just keep on doing what you're doing- it's making a difference in the world!And I say Fark you to all the snarky comments on fark.comxxoo

Lisa Sharp
Lisa Sharp

You already know how I feel about this but I read even more comments today. This people have no idea what they are talking about and I doubt have even really looked at your blog, they would see you do have a small amount of plastic in your life and you didn't go trash everything that was plastic.Also I feel these people just do this to make themselves feel better for living a lifestyle that is not for anyone but themselves. They feel guilty that you are doing so much while they do nothing.All I know is I'm damn glad there are people like you to help guide the rest of us. Also we wouldn't have to go to such steps if everyone would pitch in but they don't so those of us that know the harm it's doing and care have to do more than our fair share. We all love you Beth!!!

Robj98168
Robj98168

Fark the Farking Farkers! Were the really cool names of all the other message boards taken? Don't worry about it Beth- the real question is- do you sleep well? if yes then you are soing okay- Like a good friend of mine once said- Tell them to go piss up a rope.

monkeyjen
monkeyjen

I kind of agree with ther person who said - they would write a comment on fark if they could think of something that would make a difference (basically)In other words, the people who commented are morons (well, not ALL). They are ignorant, and happy to advertise as such. I have never once heard you say - Do as I say, or else! Though that might be hot...

Jennifer
Jennifer

Hi Beth,I've been reading your blog every few days for a while now. I really appreciate that you're trying hard to live in a way that's consistent with your values without losing your thoughtfulness or sense of humor.We're trying to do the same general thing here, and I find two things that help are 1) a clear idea that what you're doing is the right thing to do and that it's consistent with your values, and 2) a healthy disregard for other people's opinions (agreeing or disagreeing).Sorry you're getting slammed somewhere in cyber-world, but as long as you can say "I'm living in a way that fulfills my value of leaving the world a better place then I found it" (fill in your value here) then the opinions of those other folks are worth the paper they're written on!Thanks for being such a great example for the rest of us!

jill
jill

I look at those Farky comments as a sign of just how much more education is needed, how many new directions the info has yet to extend into and how many new audiences there are out there who still need to hear this and other related messages. The fact they these people were making comments is actually a good sign....they actually have read what might be the first articles on plastic and the ecology....little factoids just might start accumulating in their heads and who knows where that could lead them.

kale for sale
kale for sale

You're the best. I have such appreciation for what you do and you're such a grown up about it. Thanks for continuing to educate us.

Green Bean
Green Bean

I'm not sure I can drag myself over to Fark. I've read enough negative comments about things I care about during the Presidential campaign to last me a lifetime. I'm not sure why some people think it's totally funny to watch the world environment deteriorate but numbers 5 and 6 are downright silly. As many negative comments as there are, I like to think that some people became aware of the plastic problem for the first time - because of you, Beth. Way to go, plastic warrior!

Working Rachel
Working Rachel

Fark is a site that's pretty much devoted to making fun of stuff and being cynical...it's not like digg or other sites where people have anything approaching a serious conversation in comments. The people commenting there are for the most part not saying what they actually think, just trying to be funny/gross/stupid. What I'm trying to say is it's not worth even a microsecond of your time worrying over what's said on Fark...the commenters might even know everything you've said in this post, but are saying dumb stuff anyway to amuse other commenters. Congrats on the interview and the publicity!

Clif
Clif

Beth, my rule of thumb is to give comments an amount of thought in proportion to the amount the authors gave while writing them.Compare the comments on Fark to the ones you've received here.If I were you, I'd ask myself if something online contributes to the cause. If not (as in the Fark case) don't even mention it.

Anonymous
Anonymous

I can't read the Fark comments anymore. It makes me angry on your behalf and on behalf of all people who are trying to do good for the earth. But then I realized that it just shows these people's ignorance and arrogance if anything. (Granted, like Kristy says, not all Fark readers are like this.) After that I just felt sorry for these people who live in their small world being exposed to information they're willing to accept. I hope many more people find your site and become more informed. I added a link to my site hoping to spread it a little more! Please keep doing what you're doing.

Meg
Meg

I am always deeply troubled when I hear people so viciously attacking those who are trying to make a positive difference in the world -- and for no good reason whatsoever. It would be nice to imagine that those kind of people didn't exist, but they continue to pop up. For some people, it seems easier to attack others than to examine the effects of their own deeds and maybe show some compassion for people and things outside of their own self.On another note...Re: giving up pita, have you tried making your own flat bread? My husband has made it and he said it's super easy.

Chiot's Run
Chiot's Run

I agree with your #1. Too many times we forget that in the little slogan we hear all the time: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, that recycle is the last option. We should try to reduce what we use (like making your own mustard) and if we can't try to reuse (like your jar for mustard) and finally if we need to buy something then at least recycle the container/packaging. Too many people think that just because they recycle it's still ok to consume like it's somehow negated by the recycling.

pigbook1
pigbook1

1) don't waste too much of your own energy on how people on Fark respond2) there are plenty of people out there who shake their heads at those comments tooReally, it is a waste of your own energy to let it bother you (easier said than done I know). I think you do have make sure you don't waste your own energy on something that is not going to make a difference. Keep up the good work, really I enjoy your website and hope you don't let people like that get in your way.

SavvyChristine
SavvyChristine

Beth -- excellent response! I've been called humorless too many times when I stand up for something I believe in, and I think you handled their comments really well. I hope some of them DO make their way over here, and realize that it's not just you.

Anonymous
Anonymous

congratulations beth on both pieces actually. you are reaching even more people and rocking the boats of a few more! a sure sign you're getting somewhere when you start meeting this much resistance!a couple quotes to say better what this stirs up for me- the first two are from david suzuki's book, the sacred balance. "It's all a question of story. We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are in between stories. The old story, the account of how we fit into it, is no longer effective. Yet we have not learned the new story."--Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earthi would only add that unfortunately many are still imprisoned within the old and failing stories, vehemently in denial that the planet is in dire need of any alternative. which leads me to the next quote by Albert Einstein, " A human being is part of the whole, called by us the universe. A part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affections for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures."finally, the words of a gentle but committed activist, Howard Zinn, from another book i'm reading called The Impossible Will Take a Little While. this is a hopefilled book edited by Paul Rogat Loeb, a collection of writings from the world's many activists, those who have broken through those walls and see a better way- maya angelou, wendell berry, marian wright edelman, vacla havel, nelson mandela, bill mckibben, pablo neruda, henri nouwen, arundhati roy, desmond tutu, alice walker, and on and on. howard writes, "small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world...And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. the future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory." you are inspiring many of us,beth, creating ripple after ripple after ripple. don't let the naysayers get you down! becky

ruchi aka arduous
ruchi aka arduous

BethI thought your response both here and on FARK was brilliant. Please don't let Fark get you down. Those people just thrive on hate.

John Costigane
John Costigane

Hi Beth,Well done for standing by your principles. Reduce is the best way forward. I have not always bothered to do it but now agree that it is essential.In the UK, we follow your example as best we can. The beauty is that transfer of ideas strengthens our trend. The number of enthusiasts is only going to rise.

Anonymous
Anonymous

I've dropped in on your blog here and there. No matter what you do or say someone is going to have something really negative to say. In reality you probably have alot more people saying positive things. It's to bad people feel they need to revert to middle school behavior once they hit the internet. I know I've learned someting from reading your blog. So have many others so keep following your heart..your doing a great job!

Maya
Maya

oh Beth! so sorry but hopefully a few people will see the light and start making some positive changes even amidst all the spew over there.

Cat
Cat

Hi Beth,I am one of the Fark regulars, and I commend you for standing up for yourself and making your case. don't let thsoe comments bring you down.....that is a website where people can unleash all of their sarcastic and caustic remarks, just to get it out of their systems (because most of them would never act like that in real life). It's just a competition to see who can get the biggest laugh. Nothing is sacred or immune from ridicule on that website. Kudos to you! While I can't say that I'm quite as dedicated as you are....I have made it a personal mission to reduce just the use of plastic grocery bags. Small steps.

Carmen
Carmen

Beth,I think you made a great response that just shows you are above all the meanness and cynicism. Really, great job!

Anarres Natural Health
Anarres Natural Health

Beth, the hostility and/or sexualization in many of those Fark comments is sociopathic. Just forget about them. They are living in their own little region of hell.Being smart and caring about people and Creation is fun and fulfilling. We have THAT on them.I am going to leave some comments as soon as Fark approves me!Love & RRRevolution, Tracey

Kristy
Kristy

Please keep in mind that although people on FARK may be pretty caustic, I think there are a lot of people who read FARK and *don't* comment, but use it as a source of news. (I often go there and read stuff I wouldn't find otherwise, and hey, I subscribe to your blog! :) )So I know all the comments may be disheartening, but for every 100 or so comments, maybe you reached someone who you wouldn't have normally reached, and made them stop and think about it. And even if not, as those people are laughing about your glass straws, maybe they'll make a comment to someone else who not only won't laugh, but will look you up and start using them.I really enjoy your blog, and although I have not made the commitment to be plastic-free that you have, I am definitely more aware of the plastic that I use, and I am trying to use less, so you're making a difference, one person at a time.

Jane
Jane

Hi Beth,I've found your blog really interesting over the past 9 months or so, it has really opened my eyes and made me think about changes which I could make (and have made) to reduce or eliminate the plastic in my life. I guess some of the commentators on Fark aren't at a stage of their lives where they feel open to change right now, and they're threatened by people who do make changes. But don't be discouraged, because maybe you have planted a small seed in some of them which will eventually blossom. You have certainly made me more mindful and I thank you for that.

Marisa
Marisa

Hello Beth,I've been reading your blog for quite a while now, but I've never posted any comment. I decided to do so after reading your comment/question on No Impact Man today. I just wanted you to know that I've learned a lot with your blog. But, most importantly, your courage and determination, on top of all the content of your posts, have inspired me a lot in the past few months. Please don't let the comments on Fark.com discourage you. Thanks so much for writing this blog!

Allie
Allie

You are an inspiration, and you make such good use of your time (unlike the fun folks who spend theirs making fun of things they don't understand). Congratulations on the article. That's awesome!