(Not So) Out of Step With the World

03/19/2008 12:00 AM |

A couple weeks ago, as I was working on the second part of my anti-plastic series of columns, I found myself listening to Minor Threat, the fantastic, political, DIY 80s hardcore band that was a great influence on me in my youth. The chorus of one of the songs broke through my writing reverie, “Can’t keep up, can’t keep up, can’t keep up/Out of step with the world,” and I thought, hmmm, even 20 years later, that sounds like me. I spend my time trying to convince folks to give up (and giving up myself) lots of “normal” things, like meat, petroleum and, for the last four columns, plastic.

That’s where the “out of step with the world” part comes in — I was pretty certain that my hodgepodge of recommendations for parting with plastic, and my arguments against everything from soft drinks to shampoo would be met with derision. Instead, I’ve found hundreds of people writing on the internet about their efforts to stop consuming plastic, and I’ve received scores of letters from readers detailing steps large and small they’ve taken to cut back and make saner, less environmentally damaging choices. A coworker started using a refillable water bottle instead of drinking Dasani (mad props!) and asked me about bar shampoo (which rules). Mr. Objector stopped complaining about not having plastic scrubber sponges in the house. Instead of finding myself wandering in the wilderness of plastic people, I’ve found that MANY of us are terrified by the mounting piles of perma-garbage that cover the globe, and the millions of tons of the stuff that drift from continent to continent, and are, in the Pacific Ocean, forming a continent all their own (just type “plastic continent” into Google, and try not to cry).

At around the same time, I received an email forward from an anti-consumer group I’m aligned with. The forward was of an article from Foxnews.com, and it was “reporting” a recent study that claimed that dangers to wildlife from plastic bags (choking, suffocating, entangling, etc.) had been dramatically overstated, and that fighting the use of said bags was not, ultimately, the best way to protect wildlife. A Greenpeace scientist was quoted as saying “We are not going to solve the problem of waste by focusing on plastic bags,” and while I admire Greenpeace to no end, I think that argument is misleading.

Sure, banning plastic bags isn’t going to solve our problems — plastics of ALL kinds are causing enormous problems everywhere, and bags, killers or not, are just a small part of the overall problem. But they are a product almost all of us use, on a daily basis, and the act of banning them, taxing them, drawing attention to the damage they do, the oil they consume and the animals they do kill, is a great way of getting people to take a first step toward a greener way of living. Ditto plastic bottles and take-out containers — eliminating any one item isn’t going to fix the whole problem, but making the choice to try, and to train oneself to approach consumption, and the world, in a slightly different way, will.

So go ahead. Start with plastic. Start with one kind of plastic, and go from there. Don’t let anyone tell you it won’t help, or that it’s not the right place to start. And DON’T let them tell you you’re out of touch — there’s a growing army of greenies, and we’re in step — with a new way of doing things and better ways of living.