This is the story of Frankie, the complimentary fork that came with your order of take out food.
Frankie is better traveled than most. He started out as petroleum sitting deep below the surface of the Middle East, was conceived in India, birthed in China, visited sunny California, and the swamps of New Jersey before he found a temporary home in your hand and your heart (because the way to every red-blooded American’s heart is through his or her stomach).
1. Frankie starts as crude oil, which gets sucked up out of the ground somewhere in the Middle East (a process which destroys the environment and destabilizes governments!)
2. In a refinery in India, science happens. The crude oil is turned into shippable plastic pellets. It’s like magic, except for the part where plastic workers in India have dramatically higher rates of lymphatic cancer than the rest of us.
3. Buyers in China melt the pellets down, inject the plastic soup into four-pronged molds, run them through a cold shower to harden, and pop’em out. Tada, Frankie is born!
4. Bunches of Frankies and Francescas are packed snuggly into boxes and sent bobbling across the Pacific for their first journey to the Americas.
5. Frankie’s ship is received in a port on the west coast, where a truck whisks him away to a distribution facility in New Jersey. From there, your favorite restaurant buys him, and he’s loaded back onto a truck and trundled along into the city. More trucks, more exhaust, more badness.
6. This is the part where you come in: hungry city folk call in take-out orders until finally little Frankie is picked up out of his box and placed into some lucky diner’s (yours!) to-go bag.
7. Now begins the 20-odd useful minutes of Frankie’s life, as he’s used to shovel slightly greasy pad thai into your mouth, before you drop him unceremoniously into the trashcan.
8. From the garbage heap in front of your apartment, an NYC Department of Sanitation vehicle will pick up Frankie. It will dump him at a transfer site, where trash and recyclables are sorted before being sent to exotic destinations like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia.
9. The standard plastic fork is made of polystyrene, labeled PS 6 inside the little triangular symbol stamped into most plastic products. Polystyrene is put in the garbage not because it’s entirely non-recyclable, as is the case with some plastic resins; it just doesn’t make economic sense to recycle it. So, into the garbage Frankie goes. Whee!
10. Polystyrene doesn’t biodegrade, which would be a sad fact if it weren’t for the even sadder fact that landfills are—ehrm—supposed to be hermetically lined and capped upon their closure. Without oxygen, not a damn thing in that landfill will biodegrade. Landfill doctors do this to prevent things from leaching into the soil and the groundwater, which, for whatever reason, they still do.
11. One of these things is bisphenol-a (BPA), the plastic additive that has been making big news for its cancer-causing properties. BPA is added to certain plastics to harden them for uses as the worst things you can add a carcinogen to: food containers and disposable cutlery, among others.
12. Eventually, Frankie will end up in the same spot as most plastic cutlery: a semi-putrefied landfill, oozing small amounts of toxic chemicals into the back yards of people who never had anything to do with him in the first place.
So, no offense to Frankie, but the plastic fork is destroying our world. To take a small stance, just remember that if you are taking your food home, or someplace else where real forks are readily available, get in the habit of asking for your food without the throwaway extras.
Learn to forget plastic cutlery when you can, and half the world will thank you.