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.