Have you checked out your post-holiday recycling bin recently? It’s overflowing like the fountain of verbal vomit spewing from the mouth of Donald Trump being asked his candid feelings on Mexican/American relations. Have you looked down the street and seen the piles of refuse that your neighbors have accumulated and strewn along your street’s sidewalk for as far as the eye can see? You swear that given the proper structural engineering and a mind far more inventive than your own (like a stoner fashioning a smoking implement from an apple and a small bit of tin foil when their bong has been confiscated), you might be able to erect a housing complex from all of this nonsense.
And yes, I am sure you vividly recall where all of this shit came from, because I am sure that you, like me, spent countless hours over the holiday wrapping, unwrapping, and then unpackaging all of the stuff you gave and received for the holidays. I gave my son a robotic dinosaur (super cool, by the way- I might just steal it from him). It took me no less than 20 minutes of cutting through tough plastic and a noticeable gash on my right index finger to finally pry this thing loose from the copious materials used to secure this item’s well-being and ensure my immediate descent into a frustrating madness. Seriously, I don’t even wrap my children with this much protective casing, and I’m a parent in the 21st century, where helicopter parenting became a fashionable lifestyle choice.
Meanwhile, I envision a group of corporate executives sitting around a table smiling deviously as they imagine embittered parents everywhere feverishly hacking away at the superfluous packaging they have authorized with the secret hope of avenging their near-fatal dolphin encounter from childhood by wiping marine life off the planet entirely. Because near-fatal dolphin encounter or not, that is what’s happening. We are killing our oceans and the animals that live in them.
A 2010 study in Science estimated that we are dumping between 10 and 28 billion pounds (yes, that’s billion with a “b”, people) of plastic refuse into the oceans each and every year. That’s more than the weight of the Giza Pyramid. That’s more than the amalgamated weight of all the obese folks riding scooters around Disneyworld during a given calendar year. Shoot, it might even be more than the cumulative weight of all the bullshit lip service given to cleaning up our environment.
Because if we all really believed our best intentions on the subject, we would stop buying this crap. Ok, yes the robotic dinosaur is pretty damn cool, but so was the wooden slingshot my parents bought him from a woodcarving craftsman at their local farmer’s market. The slingshot came without packaging, and my son, much to the consternation of the poor family dog, has been using it everyday since he got it. Do we all remember toys and gifts that came without all this damn packaging?
Not to wax nostalgic with a subtle trace of curmudgeon sprinkled in, but I do remember. I remember when we had things that lasted, toys and things that endured because they were made with care. But we wanted more and more (or became convinced that we wanted more by an exploitative drive generated by our commercialism) and so it became necessary to buy into the disposable economy. Buy lots of crap, use it up, throw it away, and go buy some more. Sort of like recycling our very souls.
And we all know where this crap is coming from: China. They own us. And you better believe they are the ones killing our oceans. Of that shocking 10-28 billion pounds of trash being dumped in the ocean each year, a whopping 5 billion of it is coming from China, more than double the total from any other nation. The scary part might just be that despite the overwhelming display of trash in your own neighborhood these past few weeks, we are not even among the top 10 nations in terms of what we physically put into the world’s oceans. But we buy the stuff that leads to more crap being dumped there.
And that’s where we get to decide if we have the gumption to actually make a difference for the environment we proclaim to want to help. Because the answer lies right there before us in that pile of disposable plastic packaging piled up high on our sidewalk: stop buying this crap. Reclaim our souls by refusing to buy their shit and living instead with fewer things, things we appreciate more because we have less of them and because they actually last long enough to hold some emotional cache. Make your possessions fewer but make them count. Want less and thus receive more. And in so doing, buy back our planet from the dolphin-ravaged executives who are profiting from the carnage.
Yes, your kid may bitch briefly that you didn’t get them the Frozen Elsa doll encased in plastic or the Star Wars plastic gun they pined for, but years from now, as they unpack the dominoes you bought them instead and play them with their own children, they’ll remember the time you all played a somewhat disturbingly over competitive game of dominoes on Christmas Day. The Elsa doll and the nerf gun have already been forgotten.
Today’s column is dedicated to someone who recently reminded me to buy the slingshot instead of the nerf gun.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: in 1000 words or less every TUESDAY and FRIDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com