I don’t normally participate in special days, or months, for the simple reason that we should be long past devoting a day or a month to the issue of human survival on this planet. What could be more important than that to prioritise on a daily basis?
I am devoted to maintaining the water, or energy or waste, or whatever focus EVERY day. But I do understand that it serves a purpose for those new to more mindful living. Maybe it at least gets us focused as a group around a particular issue?
So “Plastic Free July” is almost over. How did I work beyond the 4 basic rejections they want newbies to do – reject single use shopping bags, straws, coffee cups and take-away containers?
These have become second nature – most of the time – over the years. On day one I was shocked when I ordered a smoothy at from a ‘greener’ cafe and they gave me a straw. I questioned it immediately, especially in context of this month’s special focus. And explained why it wasn’t a good idea. I don’t even accept the new alternative straws – biodegradable, bamboo or whatever. The question that begs asking is: What’s wrong with your mouth? Since when do we have to suck instead of drink our drinks? Unless you’re bedridden and can’t lift your head, when you need a bent straw, surely you don’t need a device to get fluids down your throat?
Beach clean-ups wake you up fast
Too many beach clean-ups had cured me totally of this strange habit we had acquired in our society. Straws and cigarette butts tend to beat the charts of the most picked-up beach trash item. And both are utterly unnecessary and destructive.
I think the most precious experience of this month was all the interesting discussions I’ve had with waiters, tellers and general workers in the various shops – even at the markets. Some looked a bit confused at first, but on the whole I am beginning to get the feeling that we are evolving in terms of the group mind-set. And that is simply awesome.
The trick is not to attack, but to educate – as in “did you know…?” The local shops know me already. There comes the green lady. Don’t offer her a plastic bag for then you will have to explain why.
How did it go when I actioned my intention to bring home absolutely minimal single-use plastic wrapped items, if any at all? Have you tried to purchase fruit and veg selecting the loose ones only? I took pics of the 3 main supermarkets in my area to share their loose offerings with you.
We want what we want
I realised that if you are comfortable at all – a secure roof over your head, food to eat and have your own transport – then you have to admit that you’re just so entitled. Eating what’s in season, loose and cheap is just not good enough. You want your tomatoes right through the year – actually you don’t even know whether they are in season or not.
So the supermarkets cater to our needs – keeping fresh produce in cool rooms and packaged, probably irradiated, to cater for our demands. Of course they entice us also with the wide variety which we in the Cape are particularly spoiled with. Indeed the wider the variety we eat, the better for our health. But our bodies actually benefit best from fresh produce in season. During the winter months Nature produces heating fruits, like oranges, which helps us keep warm. During the summer the cooling ones, like apples. So it is after all better to go with the seasonal flow. As always nature knows best.
We blame them for the packaging – they blame us for demanding it. We vote with our purse, don’t we? If we don’t want the oceans full of plastic, why do we purchase it? I know produce is much easier to transport packaged. Let’s not forget that the advances in packaging also facilitated advances in food distribution, nutrition and medicine across the planet. We have to thank them for that – and we all benefit.
Suffering compels change
However, if your heart breaks when you see images of dead whales with tummies full of plastic, if you want to be sick on the spot, if you are determined to sit with the pain, then some things need to be questioned. What really supports your health and what is just a bad habit? If you are truly moved by the suffering we cause, you are compelled to change. To stop following what is convenient and shift to more meaningful ways. With an open heart you simply cannot mindlessly participate in destructive actions.
I know that our supermarkets also have green intentions. We publish some good initiatives from time to time, for which we are deeply grateful. Deep in every heart there is care – that is simply natural instinct. Every living creature knows that the state of its environment determines the state of its health. We all now consume fish with micro-plastics inside their flesh. The chickens always come home to roost. There is no ‘away’ on this planet. Indeed we ARE our environment!
So could we ask them to provide more loose fresh produce – at the very least the seasonal ones? Weigh them loose at the till and allow you to pop them directly into your cloth bag or basket? Let me do that next and see publish their responses is… The more we connect up our growth with others who care, the faster we can clean up what doesn’t work.
My favourite for the past 30 years has been to shop from organic markets. There you take what you can get and cook seasonal foods. And of course you want it all loose. Even there I have found I need to guard against the new habit of gathering a couple of tomatoes, or lettuce, into a bag – sometimes plastic, sometimes ‘biodegradable.’
Beware of biodegradable options
By my understanding that is essentially a misnomer. Biodegradable packaging only biodegrades in industrial composting systems (which we don’t have in SA) that reach specific heat levels – mostly not in your domestic pile in the garden. And most folk toss this with their recyclables. This causes trouble as it gets mixed up and weakens the new recycled products. So I reject that too.
“Select to reject” I say. And open your mouth. Ready with my camera to snap the piles of delicious loose organic produce last Saturday at the organic market I sadly had to complain about the plastic bags even there! Let’s see what I find this weekend.
Let’s not stop at the end of August – let us keep pushing for less packaging and find creative ways around this scourge. Every challenge you find is an opportunity to share your concern, engage in meaningful discussions, move our society forward and spread the love.
By Elma Pollard