An Environmental Plea to Dentists Everywhere

I visit my dentist several times a year, and each time, some member of his staff insists that I leave with a plastic bag which contains a plastic toothbrush in its plastic packaging, along with a plastic container of floss and a toothpaste sample. They simply will not take no for an answer.

Here’s the thing. I use a Sonicare toothbrush, and my dentist knows this, so I have no need for these toothbrushes. And I now have enough toothpaste samples in my linen closet to last the rest of my natural life. Okay, yeah, the floss I can use. But the rest? A heaping helping of plastic that the planet could do without.

I try to mitigate this. Recently my husband and I donated a gigantic pile of toothbrushes to a shelter, and will also probably do the same thing with 90 percent of the toothpaste samples eventually. But the product manufacturers could just as easily do this themselves and produce the same amount of good will.

Given the number of dentists in the world who give out samples, I have no doubt that somewhere, floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, is an island of dental samples the size of the state of Vermont. And it’s all so unnecessary! Seriously, I’ve lost sleep over this. So here’s my plea to dentists everywhere:

  • Don’t have your hygienists force samples upon your patients that they don’t want or need.

  • If you insist on giving out said samples, do so in a paper bag, at the very least.

  • Even better: have your samples on display in the waiting room, and urge your patients to help themselves to what they need.

  • Prevail upon your dental product manufacturers to reduce their plastic packaging.

Please spread the word about this. It’s not a difficult change to make, but it would make such a difference.

Dental samples

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An Appeal to Restaurant Staff

First of all, if you are a server in a restaurant, I want you to know that I always do my best to tip 20 percent. I think you have one of the hardest, most thankless jobs in the world. And we depend on you. I’m sure I encounter servers at least a hundred times a year. So thank you, for all that you do, and all that you put up with.

Having said that, I’d like to ask you a favor. Could you ask me if I’d like a straw, rather than just giving me one? Because I don’t want one. Here’s why.

According to this article, Americans use more than 500 million straws a day. That’s enough to circle the globe 2 ½ times daily. And the vast majority of these straws are plastic. They’re used once, and then discarded. They wind up in our landfills and in our oceans, and as I have written recently, we are drowning in plastic.

As a server, you are on the front line of plastic straw distribution. You and your colleagues could help stem this plastic tide. That, and you’d be saving your restaurant money. Worth thinking about.

I know you are restricted by certain policies. I get that. If you aren’t allowed to make this change independently, could you at least show your manager this blog post? Hopefully she or he will see the logic in my request.

So, I’ll keep tipping 20 percent for your job well done, if you’ll do your best to fight the battle of the straw. Yes? Excellent! You’re awesome.

(Oh, and while I have your attention, if you’re the type to call me honey, I know you mean well, but could you please just… not? It comes off as condescending. Thanks again.)

Incidentally, if you don’t work in a restaurant, but know someone who does, please spread the word! Education is the key to stemming our plastic tide.

Server with straws

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How We Can Stop Drowning in Plastic

One of the things I love most about this blog is reader feedback. I enjoy reading the comments on the blog itself, and also on my Facebook Group Page. Often I learn quite a bit, and I do my best to respond to everyone.

In my recent post about Ghost Fishing, James suggested I watch a documentary entitled Drowning in Plastic. I was very excited to see that it was available for free on Youtube.

Even so, I have to admit that I was hesitant to watch this documentary. It was fairly obvious to me that it wasn’t going to be upbeat or lighthearted. We have a huge problem with plastic waste on this planet, and this film was going to shine a big old ugly light on it. Did I really want to bear witness to something that I feel so helpless to combat?

But in the end, watch it I did. And yes, it was heartbreaking. And sobering. And scary. But it was also really fascinating to see all the innovative ideas people are coming up with to combat this problem. I can’t possibly do those ideas justice. I suggest you watch the documentary for more details.

But I can share with you some of the many scary facts that I learned while watching.

  • Every minute, around the globe, we buy a million plastic bottles, a million disposable cups, and two million plastic bags. Every minute.

  • Every minute, an entire truckload of plastic ends up in the ocean. Over a year, this adds up to 8 million tons.

  • The vast majority of the plastic that has ever found its way to the ocean is still there.

  • By the year 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

  • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is currently 3 times the size of France, and it’s not the only garbage patch on the planet. It’s just the most infamous one.

  • By 2050, annual production of plastic will have increased by 500 percent.

  • Every time you wash synthetic clothing, more than 700,000 microplastic fibers are released into the environment, and these fibers have been found throughout the food chain, from plankton to walruses in the most remote parts of the arctic. (And if that doesn’t get your attention, this article states that “the average adult consumes 2,000 pieces of microplastic every year from salt alone.”)

But there really are some simple things you can do to reduce your plastic usage:

  • Use a reusable water bottle.

  • Use reusable grocery bags.

  • Use a reusable coffee cup.

  • Stop using straws entirely.

  • Provide your own container and cutlery for takeout food.

  • Pack your own lunch.

  • Choose ice cream cones instead of cups. (No cup waste, no spoon.)

  • Avoid buying synthetic clothing.

  • Don’t buy plastic toys for your pets.

  • Use bar soap and bar shampoo rather than liquid soap and shampoo from plastic containers.

  • Refill printer cartridges.

  • Get a water filter and drink from the tap instead of buying bottled water.

  • Don’t chew gum. Gum is made of a synthetic rubber, which is a plastic.

  • Encourage manufacturers to reduce plastic packaging for their products.

  • Use a razor with replaceable blades instead of a disposable razor.

  • Buy detergent and soaps that come in cardboard boxes rather than plastic.

  • Use matches instead of a plastic disposable lighter. Better yet, don’t smoke at all, as cigarette butts contain plastic.

  • Buy food from bulk bins, using reusable bags, to avoid packaging.

  • Participate in river and shoreline cleanup efforts.

  • Recycle.

  • Shop locally to reduce plastic packaging.

  • Talk to your friends and family about our plastic problem.

Together we can make a difference. We can, and we must.

Great-Pacific-Garbage-Patch

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Walmart Hell

I’ve written a few blog posts about how I hate shopping at Walmart. I feel so strongly about this that I have managed to avoid entering one of these dens of iniquity for nearly 4 years. Seattle makes that easy, because it has yet to allow a Walmart within its city limits. (One more reason to adore the emerald city, as far as I am concerned!)

Unfortunately, I sort of felt forced to bow down to this false God of consumerism last week, because my phone battery is dying. (No, I don’t have a standard smart phone. I have a cheap, pay by the minute tracfone that I bought once upon a time at Walmart.)

Believe me, I attempted to buy a replacement battery on line. When it came in its flimsy package, it was bent, and I could smell the acid fumes. It’s a hazmat situation. I had to get a refund, and the thing is now sitting on my back porch until such time as I can figure out how to properly dispose of it without disfiguring myself. Needless to say, this kind of put me off ordering on line. But my phone is such a weird size, I assumed only Walmart would have the battery in their brick and mortar stores.

Silly me.

So, with a tear in my eye and a knot in my stomach, I went to the Walmart in Renton. After circling around and around and around to look for a parking space, which seems to be a required part of the ritual, I entered the door on a late Sunday afternoon, and my jaw dropped.

I don’t know if it’s just this particular branch, or if the entire franchise has gone downhill in the past 4 years, but this place was nasty. Yes, Walmarts are always crowded with the dregs of humanity, but I remember that the stores themselves used to be clean, at least. I half expected to step over bird poop and cadavers in this one, such was its state of disarray. And the aisles have gotten so narrow that you can barely fit a shopping cart down them. They clearly have been unable to resist the desire to cram in more merchandise, and to hell with consumer comfort.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I walked in the door with my recycled grocery bags over my shoulder, and I was accosted by this greeter who did not speak a word of English. He insisted in putting a sticker on my empty bag. I tried to ask why, but he just babbled at me. Welcome to Walmart indeed.

I headed straight to electronics, because I just wanted to get this over with. But getting there was a trial. I felt like a salmon fighting my way upstream. The aisles were so narrow that whenever someone in front of me decided to stop and examine some cheap thing or another, everyone behind that person had to stop as well, which resulted in a traffic jam of epic proportions. I seriously thought I was going to lose my mind and start screaming. Walmart rage. I bet it happens a lot.

When I finally got back to the proper department, this very helpful employee told me I’d be better off buying a new phone with a new battery. “But I don’t want a new phone,” I said. (Did she seriously think I’d buy a 45 dollar phone to get a 9 dollar battery?)

She then informed me that I’d have to talk to that associate over there, because he was the only one who had a key to the cabinet where replacement batteries were kept. Well, that associate over there looked like a wounded fish in the midst of a shark feeding frenzy.

I approached the mob cautiously, but it was a good 15 minutes before he had dealt with all of them and could focus on me. And when he did, he said that Walmart doesn’t sell phone batteries.

I nearly lost my sh*t at this point. I should have left right then while my sanity was still relatively intact. I really should have.

But no. I decided that if I had to subject myself to this trauma, I may as well accomplish something before I left. So I stupidly decided to do my grocery shopping while there.

Lord love a duck, what a nightmare that was. Again with the traffic jams in every aisle. Only this time, the woman behind me was letting her 5 year old push the cart, and that 5 year old was delighting in ramming the cart into my calves. It was clear that mama knew it was happening, too, but she couldn’t care less. It took everything in me to keep from getting into a slap-fest amongst the canned goods. But I was afraid she would win due to my lack of experience.

Finally, finally, finally I made my way to the cash registers. There were about 35 of them, and they were all overflowing with customers. I chose the only aisle I could reach with my cart, and I soon regretted it.

There were 9 people ahead of me, and the family directly in front contained a mother, a father, and two toddlers. And the two toddlers were throwing strawberries while doing that delighted toddler scream that breaks the freakin’ sound barrier. (And one wonders why I’ve never regretted being child-free?)

To my right was an old woman having some kind of physical fit, and no one was helping her. (I admit I wasn’t, either. She was kind of break dancing, spinning in circles, albeit while remaining upright, and I really didn’t know what to do with that.)

To my left was a man holding a screaming child, who proceeded to vomit down the back of his shirt. It didn’t seem to phase him. He remained in line.

By the time I got close enough to the front of the line to be hemmed in by the candy bars and the tabloid magazines, I began to feel really claustrophobic. And I only feel that way, usually, when I get an MRI. I kept telling myself to breathe. (Through my mouth, so as to avoid the smell of baby barf.) I kept saying to myself, “Do not freak out in front of these people. This is just Walmart. You aren’t gonna die. Consider this blog fodder.” But, dear reader, it was a near thing.

I thought I was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel from hell when the strawberry pelting family in front of me started to get checked out. But oh, no. They were paying with some kind of vouchers, so in one grocery cart, they had to do 5 separate transactions, all to the tune of their screaming kids. If I hadn’t been trapped, I’d have walked out, leaving my cart of crap where it was.

They hadn’t even sorted out which food went with which vouchers, so, yeah, there’s that, too. And then she wound up walking out without half her items, which apparently didn’t fit the vouchers in question. (And to add insult to injury, one of the items left behind was the now half-empty plastic container of strawberries!)

So, before the cashier could ring me up, she had to figure out what to do with all the abandoned items on the conveyor belt, and while she was moving some, she accidentally passed them over the bar code reader, so she had to delete those charges before she could proceed.

Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

Well, she finally got around to ringing me up, but I had to bag my own groceries, because apparently Walmart is the only place in the entire state of Washington that doesn’t practically shame you if you don’t use recycled bags. In fact, they insist you shut up and use plastic, but that’s something I absolutely refuse to do.

So, when I left, my soul had been sucked out of my body, and I didn’t have the only thing I went there for in the first place, which was the phone battery. And then I realized I had forgotten where I parked my car. I swear to God, if I could have walked home, I would have, such was my desire to get Walmart behind me.

(And yes, I’ve ordered another battery on line, from a different company. I hope this one arrives intact, and before my current one completely dies.)

But the main takeaway from this post is that if you ever hear of me even considering a visit to Walmart ever again, I would like you to slap the eyeballs right out of my head. In fact, I insist upon it. Normally I don’t condone violence, but trust me, you’ll be doing me a favor.

end-of-your-rope

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