The majority of the developed world look upon developing cultures as backwards, but in the small village where I grew up we did not know of the single use plastic bag. Plastic products are the scourge of our planet. Plastics have invaded all aspects of our lives. In the village of Cheapside District, should a plastic bag show up, it would have arrived from “America” in one of the barrels our mother sent to us filled with food and clothing. Maybe one of the packs of flour was wrapped in a plastic bag. After unwrapping the gifts, the plastic bag would have been tucked away like precious cargo to be used at a later date. The bag would accompany us to the little corner shop to be filled with hard dough bread, salted cod fish and tins of condensed milk, sardines and maybe on the rare occasion a block of cheese. The single serve plastic bag would be used until holes appeared toppling out its contents on the ground, then the holes would be tied into knots and the single serve plastic bag would continue its job as a carrier. When it could no longer hold the weight of the food stuff, it would graduate to carrying soft goods like a blouse my grandmother made to its new owner. After the bag was used to shreds, the plastic bags would be turned into strips to tie the bundles of wood we foraged, in the surrounding forest for the kitchen fire. A single user plastic bag’s life would last several weeks even months until used up, shredded into bits then used as stuffing in the construction of a stone wall, or even the making of a toy.
When I arrived in the new and modern world, the practice of recycling was not used as stridently as was done in that tiny village. In the village, furniture was well made and handed down from one generation to the next with pride of ownership. In the modern world, people bought cheap, poorly made furniture, giving up the well-made indestructible coffee tables, cupboards and chairs to the garbage piles. They were not fashionable. Over the years I’ve clung to my good pieces and was seen as old fashioned for not wanting to give up my treasures. I could not let go of something I thought was beautiful and sturdy, to fill the sidewalk for the garbage man to take. I could not see how the garbage dump had space for all the junk each neighbourhood threw out week after week. The new fashionable furniture made from laminated plastic and wood dust soon broke and they too would fill the sidewalks of the surrounding neighbourhoods to be picked up by the sanitation men.
Because there is an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach to everything we consume, we do not know how or where our eggs come from. We are not aware that a cow, chicken or sheep was once alive that sits on our plate as the hamburger or stew, we consume with impunity. Polluting is easy when we are not aware of the cost of pollution to our environment and our bodies. Third world cultures are not aware of the impact that plastics have on their world, because to them everything goes back to the earth. The idea that an item will take many lifetimes to disintegrate is foreign to them.
For profit, the ‘modern’ world floods parts of the under-developed world, that have a natural rhythm with the earth, with their toxic disgorgement. Sending toxic material to a culture that lives at one with nature is like putting toxic materials into the soil that an earthworm turns, as is its natural way. The toxic material will be turned over with everything else as usual – the earthworm does not know to separate one material from another. There was a report in the news, a British diver filmed a garden of plastic in the seas around Bali. The people in these countries are like the earthworm. They live in harmony with nature. They have always known to deposit the organic materials back to be composted in the earth.
The new materials-plastics, introduced into their world are returned to nature, into their communities the same way they do, the banana leaves for wrapping and carrying food from the market to home. Which in turn is used as vessels to hold a delicious meal baked on the fire, for dinner. The state of the oceans is the responsibility of everyone who depends on the oil based products for their livelihoods. We need jobs to provide the things we love to shop for. These jobs use the very plastics the earth is now being choked by. Will we give up our comforts to save ourselves and the species in danger of annihilation? The human being is at risk because when we have taxed the planet, we will develop and contract many toxic borne diseases that we have never seen before. Are we willing to take that road?
The solution to this problem is for us to become lesser consumers. This is becoming evident in the closing of so many big box stores that have been around for decades. We do not need more anything. We need to eat less, this will lessen the strain on our water infrastructure. We need to use what we have until it is frayed to nothing. There is no shame in wearing ripped jeans. It is now become the fashion of the day. Help our youth to find ways to use less and care more for the planet. We can do it.
Sonia Nadina Haynes lives an ecologically aware life. She wears her clothes to holes, uses a recyclable bag at the grocery store and shops sparingly. This is not deliberate, her life spent in
Cheapside District primed her to live in a small footprint on the planet. She does have a car and walks to appointments close by. It is necessary for each of us to consider our carbon footprint as we walk consciously on the earth.