Thursday October 24, 2013 | 10:42 AM
Posted by Harold Johnson

Using plastic leads to littering plastic -- in spite of our best efforts. So the solution should be simple, right? Use less plastic.

Except, it’s not easy to use less plastic.

Try it. Try to go for a day without using any piece of single-use throwaway plastic. No straws, cups, sauce packs, plastic-wrapped single-serving cheese, sporks.

You will drive yourself crazy.

I’m always getting stonewalled. Throwaway plastic shows up when I least expect it. Nice healthy turkey dinner at the local diner? Cranberry sauce comes out in a throwaway plastic container with plastic lid. Coffee from the drive-through? Comes in a ridiculous styrofoam cup, like it’s still 1985. Salad at the local fast-food joint? Disaster! Plastic salad bowl with plastic lid, croutons packed in plastic, dressing packed in plastic, plastic fork -- wrapped in plastic!

Some people who are anti-plastic can do the spiel each & every time. “Hi, I’d like to order X. I really don’t like anything to be packed in plastic. Can you serve that in paper or on a plate?” Or even more involved if it’s a restaurant they’ve never gone to. “Hi. So I’m thinking about ordering the turkey. How is that served? Mmhmm... mmhmm.. is the cranberry sauce plated, or in a plastic tub? Hmmm...”

It all quickly gets like that scene in Portlandia, ordering the chicken.


It’s not me. Not yet anyway.

Instead of fighting the system, I change the game. If I go to the diner, I won’t get the cranberry sauce. If I go to the fast-food place, I’ll get the chicken caesar wrap -- same goodies, zero plastic. If, as in Saco, two drive-through coffeeshops are side by side, and one uses styrofoam cups while the other uses paper -- I’ll go with the paper.

(Image from Google Maps)

We often think of “change” as being something we do to others, to the outside world. Writing letters, campaigning. But change is also about our choices. And they’re often just as visible. Just in more subtle ways.

And sometimes those changes that we do for ourselves ripple out. The trick isn’t always to be on a crusade. It’s to be who you are -- and to make use of the moments that present themselves.

Yesterday I chose to bring my reusable cloth bags to the grocery store. The guy behind me in the checkout like said, “You must be from California, bringing those bags in.” I’m not -- though I could’ve been called worse. I’m just a guy who made a choice. I said to him, “No, just trying to avoid plastic where I can.”

No spiel. No hard-sell. Just me.

Next time he sees a plastic bag in a gutter or stream or tree branch, maybe he’ll notice it.

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About the Author

Visiting a Maine beach in March 2010, Harold Johnson was shocked by the ocean-borne debris left by recent storms. He grabbed a garbage bag and a camera, and hasn’t looked back.

Since then he has spent most of his free time studying marine pollution, coastal ecosystems, and the mysteries and science of ocean and shore.

Copyeditor and writer by trade, historian and archaeologist at heart, Johnson’s philosophy is simple: Dig below the surface, travel the currents, make the connections, learn. Then share what you learn. He lives in Saco with his wife and young daughter. Follow on Twitter @FlotsamDiaries.

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December 2013

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