I have a dirty secret. I’m guilty of the ultimate substance abuse. Intimate knowledge of its destructive properties doesn’t stop me from acting as if my life depended on it. Although I whisper in horror about the Great Pacific Gyre – although I belong to a clan that considers itself green – I’ve surrounded myself with the substance I advocate against. I play with it. Eat off it. Brush my teeth with it. I love the way it feels in my hands, sturdy yet pliable. Reliable and cheap, it’s easy to ignore the long-term costs of my worst habit.
I remember refrigerators before Tupperware. Back then we rotted leftovers in Alcoa foil covered glass bowls. Now I add Gladware to my shopping cart, glancing furtively up the aisle to see if anyone’s looking. I smuggle it out in a reusable grocery bag underneath apples and kale.
Automobiles used to be made of plate steel. Not so much these days. I backed my ’95 Escort into a bollard the other day, got out and stared dolefully at the shattered plastic. “Who drives around in plastic cars?” I asked myself. “I do.”
Most of my childhood toys were made of natural materials. We played with Lincoln logs and rubber balls, and moved tiny metal pieces around the Monopoly board. My prized possessions were a slate chalkboard framed in wood and a cardboard palomino I wore around the neighborhood. But, the perfectly molded zebra, elephant, bear, horses and cows were made of plastic, and I loved them as much or more as everything else.
In adulthood I learned the truth: that plastic was made in a laboratory from a non-renewable resource and never completely broke down. How minute indigestible particles work their way up the sea food chain. I dampened my guilt by working for a recycling processor. We submerged ourselves in truckloads of the stuff, sorted out the contaminated pieces, the kitchen knives, and the occasional dead dog. We chipped it, melted it, and extruded it into planks. Deep inside I knew that turning laundry jugs into picnic tables wasn’t going to save the world.
These days I flaunt my aluminum water bottle. My eyebrows arch disapprovingly toward sippers of store-bought water. I look aside when tossing evidence of my addiction into the dumpster and recycling bin. I cannot conceal nor reconcile my hypocrisy. I’m a reef gawker in plastic fins, a farm market shopper in a plastic car. I’m a woman of the woods in plastic shoes.