The Mountain Times

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Plastics: can’t live without them, can’t live longer than them

Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.

Yes trivia buffs, this is from the 1967 movie The Graduate - a Dustin Hoffman classic. Benjamin has just graduated college and he is not sure what he wants to do with his life. Hmmm, bet there is not a Boomer out there who can't relate to that scenario.

Mr. McGuire's advice to Benjamin - plastics. It was the wave of the future. It was going to save us time and money, make our lives more convenient, create jobs and make some corporations a boatload of money. And that it did. Plastics - another one of those things of which I enjoy, or endure, a love-hate relationship with. The older I get, the more love-hate relationships I develop. I think it is a direct correlation to the "older but wiser" theory. But plastics definitely fall into that category.

As I age, my awareness of the trashing of our beloved planet earth becomes more acute. Perhaps as I come to grips with my own mortality, I realize the earth ain't gonna live forever either. I even sometimes wonder which one of us is going to expire first. The overabundance of plastics filling our landfills, and refusing to disintegrate, is certainly not helping the cause.

I remember supermarket visits with my mom. Groceries came home in a brown paper bag. You took great care ensuring that bag remained intact because it had a future life as either a trash can liner or a book cover. If the supermarket logo was imprinted on the outside, the bag was turned inside out before covering the book. You then carefully wrote in block letters your name, grade, subject and the teacher's name - typically Sister Saint Something.

Today I get the urge to thump my head every time I get to the checkout. As soon as one of those sweet-faced teen-aged baggers says, "Is plastic ok?" I recall the recyclable shopping satchels sitting in the trunk of my car. Why is it so hard to remember them?

Oh yeah, I'm a Boomer, that's why.

I gave up soda two years ago - just went cold turkey on those little cans of cancer. So no more worries about two-liter plastic bottles filling up the trash can. I fondly remember the petite, albeit thick, green glass bottles of Coca Cola I savored when visiting my grandmother. Those bottles were returned to the place of purchase without fail so you could collect your deposit.  I believe it was about a half penny back then, thereby forcing you to make returns in even numbers only.

I do begrudgingly purchase milk in plastic containers because the milk man no longer services the neighborhood. Back in the day, milk came in quart bottles with a small cardboard disk holding the liquid in place. A pleated paper cap went over the top of that. When the bottle was empty, you put it back in the milk box that sat on the front stoop. But first you cleaned it - not just rinsed it out - you used a bottle brush and dish soap. The next day the milk man took the empties and left you a fresh quart, along with whatever other dairy products mom checked off the list. Those empties went back to the dairy and were refilled for a new delivery.  I'm sure the sterilization standards at that time would be scoffed at today, probably considered quite inferior. Yet I don't recall any great plagues or grand diseases being spread via milk bottles.

I would like to see limits placed on the amount of plastics that can be produced.  Of course the exception to the rule would be my beloved Gladware containers that are available in every shape, size and color imaginable. Each morning I load a variety of containers into my peace-sign covered canvas bag. They contain my fruit and yogurt breakfast, salad lunch and raw nut snacks. Leftovers never go to waste, not even those teensy little portions, because a Tupperware knock-off exists in just the right size. Waste not, want not - the motto of our depression-era parents.

Plastics are a big part of our modern-day lives. It is everywhere in various forms and apparently it is here to stay - literally. My journalistic research says it takes 10-20 years for a plastic bag to decompose and 450 years for plastic bottles to do the same. That's a pretty long shelf life, especially compared to that of a human. As a Boomer, I've reached the age where I can look at a plastic bag and know it is probably still going to be around long after I am gone.

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