A Story of Independence

I think I'm just one of those people that needs a mission.  A few months ago, I decided that if I'm ever going to even approach a Zero Waste Life, I need to find ways to buy things with less built-in waste.  The problem with that is I don't have gobs of time to search the world for such items, but then I thought, why not coax the world into providing them for me? 

I thought I might try something locally, like writing to my grocer and asking him/her to reduce single-use plastic usage and see if together we can't make a small dent in some of this plastic craziness.  Here's the letter if you want some ideas to do the same thing in your town:

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Dear Mr. or Ms. Grocer:

Our world is awash in plastic -- literally.  If you don't believe me, you only have to google the Great Pacific garbage patch to see just how this 5-mile stretch of a plastic island is choking wildlife and suffocating the habitats and breeding grounds of the ocean dwellers. Why should you care, you may be asking yourself now, since you are running a grocery store, not a marina, and how the heck does an ocean garbage patch affect me?

Well, allow me to share a bit of information.  The world uses about 4 trillion plastic bags a year while about 150 million tons of plastic is produced for single-use, and 8 million of those tons ends up in the ocean.  Holy crap of a waste stream that's a lot of plastic!

You, as the provider of food for the masses, are in a unique position.  The products you deem worthy of putting on your shelves are the ones people choose from for purchase.  If you removed single-use plastic from the equation, there'd simply be less of it out in the world post-purchase.  I, and many others, would be thrilled if you were to remove the plastic from my zucchini and broccoli, from my squash and carrots, from my cauliflower and all the other veggies that have found themselves enmeshed in a prophylactic living situation.  

I don't believe that wrapping vegetables in plastic improves the taste or quality of the product, and if it's the possibility of contaminants -- people do sometimes sneeze and cough when shopping --being transferred from person-to-product while the vegetables sit there, waiting for someone to buy them, you really don't need to worry too much about that because:  a) everyone knows you need to wash your veggies before you eat them; and b) that's what our immune systems are for.  Maybe I'm overstepping here, but perhaps you could just display things in the same manner they came into the world:  naked, the way God intended.

I understand there will be some people who prefer the plastic wrap, and for them -- at least during this plastic phase-out period -- you might want to leave a few bags around to collect the stray lemons and beets, and to catch the fish juice so it doesn't drip all over the milk.  (Actually, I think we might always need to have some plastic around specifically for the drippy meat products because that just makes good, hygienic sense.)  

For the rest of us, a few reusable bags for our vegetables would be great, allowing us to bag and bag again without waste, something we'd probably all willingly pay for if it meant one less turtle would end up with a straw stuck up its nose.  Oh, and speaking of straws, can you just eliminate those plastic ones and only sell reusable ones?  The turtles will be thrilled.  

I know you have a lot on your plate and this seems like such small potatoes in comparison, but think about it.  As the provider of foodstuffs, you wield great power.  I just ask that you use it wisely. 

On behalf of the planet, I thank you for your kind consideration.

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Need more convincing?  Consider this:  water and sunlight together cannot breakdown the currently used types of plastic, causing downstream water intake systems and wastewater treatment systems to actually become a dangerous to wildlife, spreading plastic particles a/k/a microplastic that much of water’s wildlife ingests, but cannot digest; to many micro plastics will ultimately kill the species that eats it.  Since we don’t have a solution to the waste stream yet, we need to work on the source.

Want to start a movement?  Write to your grocer and ask for a little help here.  Perhaps we can remove single-use plastics from our environment one grocery store at a time.  The turtles, and your children, will thank you.

Pam Lazos is an environmental attorney practicing in Philadelphia, and the author of “Oil and Water,” an environmental murder mystery about oil spills and green technology. Having traveled extensively, she values her carefree access to clean, potable water and envisions a world where everyone has that same daily experience.