Earlier this week, for a few glorious hours, I was like Kim Kardashian.
"Plastic Emergency," the TV socialite tweeted, before later adding that she, like a growing number of cities and towns, was giving up plastic straws.
Inspired, I, too, made a personal pledge: no more straws.
Because — I can't believe I'm saying this — Kardashian is right: we're facing an emergency.
"We made plastic. We depend on it. Now, we're drowning in it," reports National Geographic's Laura Parker.
The stalwart magazine recently launched a "Planet or Plastic?" series that examines the ubiquitous and damaging role of plastic.
» Some 6.9 billion tons of plastic have become waste. And 6.3 billion tons of that aren't recycled.
» Millions and millions of tons line our coasts. There's a floating island of plastic, larger than Mexico, in the Pacific Ocean. Plastic kills millions of ocean animals each year. (We don't have to travel to the Pacific; look at our own local creeks and waterways, and today's front-page story.)
"On Hawaii's Big Island, on a beach that seemingly should have been pristine — no paved road leads to it — I walked ankle-deep through microplastics," writes Parker. "They crunched like Rice Krispies under my feet. After that, I could understand why some people see ocean plastic as a looming catastrophe, worth mentioning in the same breath as climate change. At a global summit in Nairobi last December, the head of the United Nations Environment Programme spoke of an 'ocean Armageddon.'"
Imagine if your favorite vacation Gulf beach spot was covered in ankle-deep plastic.
» The immortality of plastic, which biodegrades, well, never.
That's why Kardashian tweeted.
That's why I applauded.
But a few hours after doing so, I was thirsty. Out of habit, I found a line, ordered a smoothie, handed the cashier — ahem — my plastic, and there it was: blended fruit inside a plastic cup, with plastic lid and plastic straw.
Plastic, 1. Cook, 0.
The more I looked, the more plastic I found. I dare you to go one waking hour a day without encountering plastic. It. Is. Everywhere.
Inherent within plastic is an unspoken disposability; you'll preserve an heirloom or artisan-made craft, but never plastic. It's made to be tossed.
And that's the real issue here.
I wish a brave City Council would begin steps to lessen our use of plastic bags, straws and cups. Outside of cheap convenience, there is no quantifiable good that such plastic brings. (Yes, plastic, in other forms, has saved lives, made life much easier and so on.)
But laws exist to protect us and some things need to be outlawed or shunned. Plastic, in certain forms, is one of them, and it's getting the eye evil from powerful groups. Nations — Kenya, France, U.S., Canada — are all banning certain varieties of plastic use. Corporations — Coca-Cola, which creates some 128 billion plastic bottles each year, PepsiCo and Johnson & Johnson — are all reducing plastic use in overwhelming ways.
Manufacturers can create more biodegradable plastic. Municipalities can create more recycling.
A Kardashian-like pledge doesn't require much sacrifice: use a reusable water bottle. Bring your own bags shopping. Drink your drink without a straw. Recycle.
But instead of laws, which incite morality debates on personal freedom or property rights — You'll Take My Solo Cup When You Pry It from My Cold, Dead Hands! — we should look beyond the surface.
The real issue here isn't straws.
It's why we have so many, many straws.
And why we have so much, much plastic.
Plastic is the handmaid of our consumption and materialism.
Reducing plastic use is only a Band-Aid unless we begin to question our needs and desires to buy, purchase and consume.
Was I really hungry, or just in need of a distraction? Some sugar kick? Some quick way to temporarily feel better?
Simplicity and renunciation, words rarely used outside of cloisters and monasteries, can be guides for both a reduction in pollution and an increase in happiness. We renounce things that are harmful; we simplify in order to consume less. And happiness follows.
"I'd be foolish not to take some of these opportunities that are coming my way," Kim Kardashian once said.
The current spotlight on plastic is an opportunity that allows us to reverse catastrophic environmental damage, thus preserving precious animal and plant life, while also examining the choices we make.
Why do we buy what we buy?
David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook at DavidCookTFP.