The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

October 27, 2007

Rethinking Plastics

No, I’m not rethinking whether or not to buy or use plastic. That’s just the title of the class I started tonight through Green Sangha. During the course, we not only learn a lot about plastic, its properties and problems, but also the best ways to present the issue to others. Next week, we’ll have a special guest chemist who can explain the science behind different plastics. Having received one of the only D’s of my life in this subject, I really need this one!

What I was left with tonight was the Green Sangha principle that everyone does the best they can with the knowledge they have. In presenting the history of plastic, Stuart Moody, the instructor, said some very nice things about some of the inventors of early plastic, praising the developers of Tupperware and saying they were people we’d enjoy having over for dinner. They didn’t know what problems their products would cause in the long run. If they had known, they probably would have acted differently.

I said that whereas I could feel compassion for those early pioneers because they were acting out of ignorance, I have a very difficult time finding any compassion for the people that do have the information about the harmfulness of their products and push them anyway. And Stuart reminded me that those out there doing harm to our environment in the face of this information are also acting out of ignorance and illusion, the illusion of separateness.

Of course they are. Of course. Who would pollute a river if they truly felt that the river was part of themselves? Who would operate a factory in which their workers were exposed to toxic chemicals if they understood that they and the workers are all part of the same world body? Who would engage in a business that caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of creatures if they realized the connection between themselves and all other life forms on the planet?

Stuart’s presentation began with what I recognized from my Mormon upbringing as a conversion story, a testimony. He talked about the night that he woke up to how much plastic there is in our everyday lives. I’ve been meaning to write my own conversion story in a post on this blog, but just haven’t yet found the words to do it because in many ways, I don’t understand how it happened. A series of factors came together, I heard and saw the right things at the right time, and all of a sudden, I was an activist.

But maybe some of you do have the words to explain how it was you first became aware of either the problems of plastic or environmental issues in general. Please share. I’d love to hear your stories.

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16 years ago


In high school I read Silent Spring and was surprised to learn that bad things can happen unintentionally while trying for improvement from a limited perspective. I had no idea until then that humans could harm the environment and also thought that farmland was nature undisturbed. There were no environmentalists that I knew of at the time.

Years later, on air flights, I saw the huge dome of air pollution that sits over Chicago as we descended into it. I worked for a few years on the 102nd floor of Sears Tower and saw the pollution plume building from traffic each day. Had occasional 5AM shifts and noticed the amazing difference in air quality when there has been little traffic for hours…I could actually smell the fragrance of plants as I rode my bike down empty city streets to the train.

The impact of consumption dawned on me while visiting homes and seeing basements stuffed with things that were never used and then watching the explosion of self-storage places where such things are stored because the basements are full, despite the growing size of homes. My parents passed away and I realized how little of what one person treasures is wanted by others…all that we pile up ends up eventually as trash, not only the small things but our cars and houses eventually.

This brought awareness that we live in our minds, not the physical world. In other words, things have emotional/psychic meaning and value that can easily blind us to the physical impact of our unlimited and constantly stimulated desire for stuff. We act largely on what we feel, not what we might know. For every person, such as the author of this website, who is driven to know, there are many who do not want to know. What would we be without our stuff to define and redefine ourselves as we wish? It can be very threatening, but I’ve found if you can overcome the fear then getting rid of as much as you can is like removing a burden. Your bills end and there is freedom to be had.

I came up with a mind experiment: thinking of all that I have ever purchased piled up on one side of a balance scale and me sitting as the generic naked human animal on the other, I realized that my impact on the physical world is astounding. I multiply myself the individual by billions and the physical impact is beyond comprehension. With this realization, I dedicated myself to using the minimum, using it until it wears out and buying only what I really need…that balance scale always in mind…with the thought that I should act as I would have others act, especially the children I have who watched what I did as they grew up.

Though I have always thought it wasteful to continually throw away things that remain perfectly functional and have an almost unlimited lifetime, I have to admit that I’ve received an education at FPF. I had no idea of the extent of the impact of plastic, in the oceans in particular.