Now that all of us eco-conscious shoppers are going to market with our earth-friendly reusable bags that we’ve purchased during National Public Radio’s pledge drives, I would like the answer to a very basic question: What are people putting their garbage in?
At the farmer’s market, I fill my baskets (from a small craft cooperative during which the basket weavers earned fair pay) with farm-fresh fruits and veggies, but at the supermarket I continue to ask for paper bags so I have something to put my trash in. The alternative would be to buy plastic trash bags, of course defeating the purpose.
Of far greater concern to me than plastic grocery bags are the heavy duty plastic containers that my organic produce and crackers come in. These plastic containers will never biodegrade. More than a decade ago, while motoring a 50-foot catamaran in a remote region of the Pacific Ocean, Charles Moore discovered an island of plastic trash. This stuff will never go away – it will outlast the great stone monuments and buildings of our civilization.
The trash photodegrades – that is, it breaks down in the sun — becoming tiny particles of plastic polymers that become toxic sponges. These pellets of modern poison wind up in the intestines of fish, sea turtles, seabirds and marine mammals as far away as Antarctica.
The other day, while shopping at Whole Foods, I had an idea of how we might save our planet and the newspaper industry all at once. When I buy my “wild-caught” fish, it comes wrapped in plastic, and then in an outer layer of freezer paper that some clever fishmonger person designed to look like newspaper.
Since I am a newspaper journalist and am watching the industry crumble as readers and advertisers go to the internet, it got me thinking: We can’t wrap our fish with blog posts. So, perhaps one way to solve two problems at once is to replace harmful packaging with newspapers. This return to the tradition of relying on the secondary use of newspapers may help revive demand for the old gray lady.
Newspapers were once famously useful for lining the bird cage until it was replaced with some non-biodegradable product. Same with kitty litter.
Shredded newspapers made an excellent mulch in the vegetable garden, until some large chemical company invented a way to make money with dyed pellets.
Newspapers were a wonderful packing material for glasses and dishes and other breakables, until Styrofoam peanuts were invented. (I’m the world’s slowest packer as I finally get to catch up on my reading. It’s hard to crate up all your son’s old paraphernalia when tempted by a fascinating article from The New York Times Home section on whether or not getting rid of your refrigerator will impact the carbon footprint.)
As kids, we used newspapers to wrap our schoolbooks, until some marketer thought of a way to sell glossy book covers. And in our family, we still consider newspapers to be the best wrapping paper, especially when embellished with crayon and paint.
Collage artists from Picasso and Kurt Schwitters to Romare Bearden made excellent use of newsprint, relying not only on the paper itself but the meaning of words.
And that, after all, is what we need newspapers most for – words, and getting the message out. Being the watchdog of our government and policies.
So here are my words: next time you go to the store, bring your old newspapers to wrap up your veggies. Yes, in the beginning you’ll be looked at as odd, but after a while, this will catch on, and people will start buying newspapers again if for no other reason than to take their fish home.
“You may not have time to read it all, but it’s nice to know it’s all there” will become a statement not about wasting paper, but about saving our planet from toxic plastic pellets.