Our month less plastic is rolling along in the summer rain. We just trekked down to our neighbor-friend’s house for some home-baked raspberry-rhubarb muffins in exchange for some of our backyard raspberries that we delivered to his front porch last night. A very tasty and convenient bit of sharing that was all plastic-free. While the girls eat their muffins, I’m having a cup of coffee another friend brought home from Columbia last week. The coffee did come in plastic, although the packaging is technically recyclable. Whether it actually ends up being recycled is an open question, but there’s no guarantee that it will even if I sort it into the proper bin and it arrives at a recycling facility. We know for certain that only a small percentage of plastic waste in the U.S. is recycled, although calculations of the exact percentage vary, and different types of plastic have different recycling rates. Plastic water bottles, for instance, are recycled at greater rates than plastic bags, but even when they’re made into new products, those products are almost never recyclable and often require the addition of virgin plastic feedstock (nurdles) along with the recycled plastic.
So that coffee packaging from my friend, the bag holding those delicious sweet, smooth, fully-roasted (not over-roasted) grounds, can go into my collection of recyclable plastics, but it’s not statistically likely to become something new and durable. I think we’re more likely to eat its microscopic bits once they become part of our food chain. That would take the joy out of my cup of joe, but I persist in choosing joy over sourness whenever possible. None of this is perfect, this world we’ve created for ourselves on top of the planet that spawned us. It’s impossible to live a no-impact life, and there simply are not always sustainable options, even if you have all the money in the world (and I do not) and all the time and energy to search them out (and I do not). I choose to focus on the fact that my friend brought me this coffee as a gift, and it’s a tasty gift, one that will keep me energized to tackle another day less plastic.
Along with choosing to enjoy my cup of coffee, I have good news. Our good friend became a bat mitzvah yesterday, and we baked 228 macaroons for her celebration. This did require a trip to our local corporate grocery store for unsweetened coconut, chocolate chips, and cocoa powder. We brought our own jars and a large Tupperware tub that’s been in my family for a generation now (Inherited plastic! Because I didn’t have a jar large enough for all the coconut we needed – I’ll work on that), we asked the cashier in the bulk department to weigh the empty containers and write the tare weight on top of each, and we were ready to shop without using any new plastic packaging. Granted, I’m guessing some of these items arrive in bulk-style plastic packaging that I never see, but at least that’s less plastic per piece than with the individually-sized portions available outside of the bulk department. I also know that quite a few of the bulk goods arrive in good old-fashioned unbleached paper bags. Our finished macaroons were at least as delicious as they would have been had we used ingredients packaged in plastic, and these cost less both up front at the store (under $15, including the extra chocolates we bought for our little treat jar), and in the long term through environmental toxicity.
In other good news, last night I made keftes using grass-fed beef from our freezer, fresh kale and collard greens from a Bainbridge Barter potluck, fresh rosemary and mint from my garden, and spices from the bulk department that I put straight into jars. We ate those over rice (purchased in a 25-pound paper bag) and fresh Greek yogurt in a Mason jar that we got from Liesl in exchange for some kimchi we made ourselves.
It was just what I needed after an afternoon spent moving a dog house turned chicken coop (we’re getting a few chicks from a friend tomorrow), and it was all delicious. The greens were fresh and Liesl’s yogurt made from local organic milk is better than anything at any store, in any sort of packaging. Along with the nutrition of it all, the good flavor was amplified by the fact that we grew or traded for all of it except the beef, and the money we paid for that went straight to the family that raised it. Our dinner was proof that eating locally without plastic packaging or trips to corporate stores really and truly can be both affordable and delicious. If we each invest in creating and strengthening connections to our local food grids, we and our planet will reap the myriad benefits.
Yes, it’s easy for me to say, living here with a backyard to grow food for sharing, but I know there are people with urban gardens that yield even more produce than mine. A life with less plastic and more local food should be a viable option for all of us; we just have to prioritize it and collectively support it in concrete ways. I think it’s going to happen most easily if we focus on the joy and community in sustainability, and strive to avoid the judgmental perspective and competitive self-righteousness that seems to motivate some in the eco/green world. This shouldn’t be about suffering and doing without, or about competing to be the most minimalist in all ways, but about finding new ways to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. Here’s to more of what’s good, truly good, for us and our lovely Earth, and less of what isn’t.