Good Plastic / Bad Plastic
Feb 23
Recently I was hanging with friends, one of whom had just been to the doctor. She was bandaged up and changing ice packs every few hours. Ick, right? She threw out an old ice pack (the single use only variety) and looked over at me. I know, I know, she said. It's plastic. It's waste. It's bad for the environment. (But good for the bruises.)

Let's disregard for the moment that I'm the pain in the ass friend who bitches so much about plastic use that my friends can anticipate what I'll say. Yes, let's disregard that annoying friend for a sec. She exists, but not in this particular instance. In this case, I of course wanted my friend to be comfortable, and told her so (thereby lecturing yet again...). Plastic doesn't biodegrade, and our oceans, landfills, and ditches are filled with it. But as an invention, it has some incredible benefits.

Yes, you heard that right. Here's where I find plastic invaluable:

1. In hospitals and doctor's offices. Sanitary needles, comfortable catheters, anything that makes a patient's life easier and safer is good in my book.
2. At home health care. When you're not in extreme pain, refilling ice packs or making your own is not a hurdle. But when you're hurting, doing the best you can is all you can do. Use up those disposable ice packs. It's time to make things easier, not harder. Use the best knee brace, the right pain reliever. Notice the plastic packaging, maybe write a letter to complain, but do what you gotta do. Pain sucks.
3. When the bio-alternative doesn't make long-term sense. My primary example here is toothbrushes and floss. I'm a little bit crazy about dental care, and having my own teeth till I die is not negotiable. I've tried bamboo toothbrushes, and they don't work as well as the plastic variety with variable bristles. Flossing every day is also a must. Biodegradable floss is now an option, thank goodness. But if it doesn't do the job, I will go back to the versions wrapped in plastic. These teeth need to last.

What would you add to this list? Where to you see the product benefits as being worth the plastic output?

Now, to justify these plastic uses, I try to cut back on trash everywhere else, including non-plastic items. No plastic bags, cups, take out containers. Finally I'm succeeding at the transition to hankies, so my Kleenex use is dropping. At the farmers' market, I take my own bags, and also drop off my own containers to be filled with local granola, sausage, what have you. Packaging makes no sense. It's not critical (it's not helping the longevity of my teeth), so it needs to go. At the grocery store, I try to not buy anything in packaging unless it's an absolute fave. Due to an awesome breadbox, I can buy only fresh loaves of bread in paper. The breadbox keeps them fresh at least for two weeks. No plastic bread wrappers. These Eco Nuts work well, so there's no more plastic laundry bottles over here. I don't buy CDs or DVDs anymore, as the packaging is excessive and streaming is now a good alternative. Every time I look at something to buy, the packaging is part of my decision-making process. For clothes or big ticket items (furniture, appliances), I try to buy high quality so that it will last, or gently used if possible. (Check out the pics above for used / vintage furniture spied recently at the Community Warehouse on MLK and in a Vancouver vintage store. These would not be a hardship to have in any house.) By trying to constantly make eco-friendly decisions whenever possible, I feel much more comfortable buying my favorite Oral B toothbrush. Logical? Perhaps not. Reasonable? I think so. It feels like a zero-sum game at times.

The point is this: Use your disposable ice packs. Use whatever plastic you need to to improve your quality of life. But also consider what is truly necessary for your quality of life. Make changes accordingly. That's all we can do. As for me, I will continue to be the annoying voice prompting people to think about such decisions. I can't seem to stop, so I might as well embrace it!
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