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Earth Matters

Plastic Pangs

Is your utensil drawer overflowing with excess plastic ware you hate to waste, too?

I have a love-hate relationship with takeout.

I want ordering food from local establishments to be a simple source of pleasure — a tasty meal with the side benefit of contributing to small businesses and the livelihood of their employees. Moreover, I wish I could feel settled in gratitude to be able to afford takeout for family dinner once or twice each week.

But I have a compulsive aversion to waste. And takeout inevitably comes packaged in and packed with lots of single-use material, often plastic.

There are only so many reusable containers that we can keep in rotation as complimentary Tupperware for storing leftovers and packing lunches. Sure, there are recycling numbers molded onto many plastic containers. However, they’re still made from fossil fuels, and most of it does not ultimately get remade into new useful products.

Plus, all the disposable utensils! Even when we request no utensils, they are often packaged with our order anyways.

My partner reminds me that the people doing the packing are tasked with making sure customers have all they need to enjoy the food, so I should be understanding if they include utensils out of a well-trained habit.

I do appreciate compostable utensils or paper-based packaging for their nod towards eco-friendliness, but I still linger on the energy expended in production and transport and how much of the materials will end up as more trash taken to landfills. 

I notice both the tangles of these thoughts in my mind and, perhaps more pronounced, I feel angst in my torso, turning of the stomach and tightening of the chest. This is the manifestation of my compulsive aversion. I don’t want the deliciousness of the local delicacies to be tarnished by this unease. But the feelings are nagging. 

Intellectually, I acknowledge that our society’s culture is full of single-use products and too often defined by wastefulness and excess. I know that oil companies seek to promote as much plastic use as possible. I recall that a problematic paradox of our ecological challenges is how the onus is put on individuals’ conservation behaviors (or lack thereof) rather than the needed collective collaboration that would have to include a shift in corporate practices to reduce consumption.

When I keep these ideas in mind, I may redirect my distress away from the takeout waste itself towards the more significant roots of the issue. However, this doesn’t prevent the churning stomach and tensed chest area. 

In terms of our household-specific waste, I felt a brief moment of jubilation when I found someone who promised he could put much of our bagged-up plastic utensil excess to good use.

He ran food and arts programming for young people and noted that the plastic-ware could support students’ eating and crafting. What satisfaction when I dropped two large bags full of plastic utensils off with the program director! Yet, since then, the drawer and cabinet where we try to hide the disposable items start to bulge anew through more weeks of takeout and its unwanted accouterments.

Then recently, I also met the partner of the youth program director and identified myself as the “donor” of the bags of plastic utensils.

The partner responded, “Oh, you’re the source of that crap filling our space.”

I learned that the donation at least was now in the attic area and out of their way, but clearly the good use for all this plastic had not been realized. 

I will continue to order takeout and request no utensils, and hopefully I can use some of my mindfulness training to reduce the angst I feel.

In terms of causes for advocacy, there seem to be many more important ones than pushing for regulations related to resources used for takeout orders. That said, I know I’ll continue to be bothered by the waste and the corresponding overuse of fossil fuels. 

Dear reader, if you have ideas for how we can individually and collectively manage this issue better locally, will you please share?

Editor’s note: send your ideas for dealing with plastic problems (locally or globally) or anything else

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