Wrinkled Wisdom – Pretty Please, Pay Attention to Plastics

There’s light at the end of the proverbial tunnel for vaccinated oldies!  Okay, that’s trite.  One late night host was much more creative in describing the Center for Disease Control’s latest guidelines for vaccinated seniors.  He called it an invitation to host “geriatric orgies.” Huh?  We’re just happy to see the grandkids and grocery shop in person.  It’s so satisfying to choose our own grapes and celery; and, while walking around, pick up things we don’t need, like more junk food.  The CDC also said we can now safely eat indoors at restaurants, which brings us to plastics.

Our year of ordering in and grocery deliveries has made us even more aware of plastics.  Takeout delivery includes a lot of single-use items and a lot of plastic!  Remember the 1967 movie The Graduate? In a discussion about Ben’s future, Mr. Braddock says he wants to say one word to Ben.  Just one word…plastics, because there’s a great future in plastics.  Mr. Braddock nailed it over 50 years ago.  Plastic products have increased by over 8% each year since the 1950s.  Huge!

Their impact on our oceans and wildlife has been astounding.  The Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean is well-known.  It’s almost six times the size of Colorado and chock full of fishing nets, trash, and plastic debris.  Didn’t know there are now four additional garbage patches in other locations around the world.

Our oceans are saturated with more than eight million tons of plastic waste every year. And, now, microplastics—fragments of any type of plastic—are increasingly seen as a global environmental concern.  Big things eat littler things.  Tiny anchovies eat microplastics and are, in turn, gobbled up by fish that are sold in our supermarkets. It used to be said, jokingly, that we were made of corn and sugar.  Now we can add plastic to that list. 

For visual impact, just google the numerous, heart-wrenching pictures of dead whales and dolphins, their stomachs filled with plastic and trash, or watch the video of a plastic straw being removed from an endangered sea turtle’s nose.  The Coast Guard estimates that more than one million birds and 100,000 marine mammals die each year from eating or getting entangled in plastic debris. And, it’s not just marine animals.  Researchers studying floating plastics in the Persian Gulf region just found over 2,000 plastic bags in the stomach of a dead camel because it ate human trash.

Another depressing fact?  Plastic bags take about 10 to 20 years to decompose in landfills. It’s estimated that plastic bottles take 450 years.  As they degrade, they shed more microplastic shards into the air and water.  And don’t get us started on the microplastic from fleece!  

What can we do as news about plastic gets scarier?  We all recycle, of course.  We should also buy products in containers from recycled plastic.  But, to really make a difference, we need to support investment in better recycling technology, recyclable alternative packaging, and assure recycling is easy, accessible to all, and cheap.  As one newsperson wrote, “Like perms, gaucho pants, and bump-it clips, plastics appear to be trending downwards in the court of public opinion.”  This negativity has spurred companies to research cost-competitive, environmentally friendly replacements for conventional plastics.  Hurry!  

And, when you take those plastic bags back to the grocery store, include produce bags, newspaper bags, zipper sandwich bags, the plastic that covers your dry cleaning, and some acceptable cereal bags with your returns.  Even bubble wrap is recyclable. 

So, our wrinkled wisdom for today?  Seek out products like Dove that clearly indicate you are buying shampoo in 100% recycled bottles.  Lobby for recycle symbols that can be spotted without eyeglasses, much less a microscope!  Check your trash company’s website to learn what is recyclable in your area.  No shredded paper??  Advocate for new chips and snack bags—ones without that shiny layer of polypropylene that protects crispness, but can’t be recycled. Please, do we have to sacrifice munching on Cheetos to be environmentally responsible?  And, if you are worried about plastics AND waiting for grandkids, you might want to read the book Count Down about plastics’ impact on fertility. Or not.

P.S. In some areas, it’s again okay for our reusable bags to accompany us to the grocery store.  Don’t forget to wash them!  We like to think of it as an extension of handwashing.  

Wrinkled Wisdom: Then and Now

Remember rotary phones?  Love the recent video of two teenagers attempting to figure out how to use one to make a call.  They flunked!    Heck, remember party lines?  They were less expensive than a private line and promoted as patriotic during World War II because they required less copper used for ammunition cartridges.  

Hard to fathom today that between two and 20 families were willing to share the same phone line.  You knew a call was for you because each family had a specific ring—a mix of short and long rings.  No answering service, of course.  Our grandparents had one.  It was not unusual to pick up their phone and hear a voice on the line.  It was soooo tempting to eavesdrop.  But that was a definite no-no. 

Today, we all have cell phones.  Do we miss the old days?  Don’t miss busy signals.  Don’t miss memorizing friends’ and family members’ telephone numbers.  Now, they are right there in our cell phone contacts.  That’s sure a plus as we age…unless our phones crash!!  Don’t miss faxing stuff.  And, pay phone booths?  The kids just look at them and say…huh??  And, speaking of kids, we’re ticked off at the rash of robocalls!  Aren’t these young techies smart enough to figure out how to stop them?  

Remember when “overexposure” simply described exposing a roll of old camera film to too much light?  We sure use that word in numerous, negative contexts today!  And, no more trotting to the drug store to have that film developed.  We all ecstatically graduated to the Polaroid camera, which could produce a finished print in under a minute.  Then, digital cameras were invented.  Now, everyone simply uses their cell phone.  Instant gratification!

Remember when car makes and models were distinct, unique?  Not today.  Can’t tell a Chevy from a Jaguar.  Okay, we can spot a Mini Cooper.  Loved those old 50’s tail fins.  And, two-toned station wagons.  Station wagons???  Yes, we understand that certain shapes and features provide the best aerodynamics, which is why most cars look the same.  We support car designs that are fuel efficient and good for the environment.  But, can’t we be ecofriendly and creative?

It was tough to adapt to wearing seat belts back in 1968.  Today, the safety features on new cars have escalated and the constant alerts are both confusing and frustrating.  Love the blind spot warning system and the backup camera.  But, most drivers say they are annoyed by nanny-tech like the lane-keeping and centering systems and disable many features.  

Remember when we returned our used, glass soda bottles to the grocery store for a refund?  They were expensive to produce.  Bottlers wanted them back.  Then things changed dramatically.  Disposable containers appeared with the words “no deposit; no return.”  Early environmentalists were worried about littering.  No kidding!  We’ve all seen the photos of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the turtle with a straw stuck in its nose, and the pounds of plastic trash in the stomachs of dead whales and dolphins.  But, no one ever expected that we would be inadvertently eating and inhaling gobs of microplastics today.  Guess the Food and Drug Administration needs to get with it and require companies to list plastics on food ingredient labels!  

Remember our dance moves?  Our parents thought the Twist was scandalous.  Then came the Locomotion, the Mashed Potato, the Watusi, the Monkey, and the Frug.  Sometimes, we even wow the kids and do the Jitterbug.  Remember the first televisions?  No color—just black and white.  Programming stopped shortly after midnight with the playing of the national anthem. And, oh, only three channels.  

Adolescent fiction is a big business today.  Think Harry Potter.  Remember the reading habits of our youth?  Nancy Drew for the girls and the Hardy Boys for the…well…boys.  That was about it!

Our wrinkled wisdom for today:  Feel smug that we oldies can’t be beat on the dance floor, even if we are huffing and puffing to make it through the entire song.  Feel smug that we have adjusted to the surge in technology during our lifetime.  Buy a new car while you are still able to learn all the new safety features…and turn off the annoying stuff.  Here’s a fun quiz.  What album did you own as a LP, tape, and CD, and now stream on Spotify?  Let us all know in the comment section.  Finally, plastic litter will outweigh fish in the ocean in a couple of decades.  Think about the grandkids eating/inhaling microplastics throughout their lives.  Let’s get plastics out of our lives!