Take a minute. Go check it out.
(For those of you who are ignoring my orders, here's a summary of what you would see: a photo and close-up details taken by Chris Jordan that, in real life, measures 5 by 10 feet. The first shot is a little hard to make out, lots of dots of color. The next two zero in until you can see that these are all plastic bottles. 2 million plastic bottles. The number of plastic bottles used in the States every 5 minutes. OK, so go look at the pictures now.)
Let that sink in. 2 million plastic bottles. 5 minutes.
And the vast majority of those bottles are not recycled. The exact percent varies from place to place, depending greatly on the availability of recycling containers and how aggressively governments promote recycling. The American Chemistry Council (whom I would probably want to gag with their new PET bottles if I looked a little more closely at where all they're putting their new products) estimates that the amount of plastic recycled increases each year but the recycling rate stays steady around 25%; we're consuming more plastic, but recycling habits remain the same.
I doubt any of this is either completely new or surprising to most of you. Even though I didn't have precise numbers, I can't say these details are unexpected. Nonetheless, it does strengthen my resolve to work on the habits I identified for myself recently.
- I always bring a travel mug to campus with me. Now that I have a carrel, I'm also bringing a thermos filled with my morning coffee. Once I've run through that, I allow myself to purchase some more. Or just fill it with tap water. Or use the department kettle to heat up water for herbal tea.
- Speaking of herbal tea, I have taken to stashing tea bags in my backpack. And a small bag of ground coffee. (My department has an espresso maker. They even have ground espresso there, but I feel a little uncomfortable with my lowly graduate student self using it.)
- If I forget my mug, I don't buy any drinks. I can make use of some community mugs in the department--not ideal, but I haven't had to do it more than once this semester!
- No sodas, no bottled water. If I move off of hot drinks, I stick with tap water.
- My newest effort is to make sure I bring a snack and drink for Scooter on those days when he'll need one. Otherwise, I'm still purchasing a bottle of orange juice for him on those occasions, but I'm down to about once a week on that.
- Finally, on those few occasions when I do end up with a plastic bottle, I hang onto it tightly until I can find a recycling receptacle, even if that means bringing it home to our own bin.
So that removes a couple plastic bottles from the picture. If another million or so people join in, then we'll be getting somewhere.
*McGowan edited and wrote parts of Parenting Beyond Belief, a book I've been skimming bits and pieces of. The focus of both the book and the blog is secular parenting. He talks a lot about his thoughts on and experiences in raising free-thinking children. A really good read, especially for my atheist-parent readers who might be wondering "what now?"