I was sitting at the computer and talking with my husband, Bernd, the other day when the trash can to the left of me caught my attention. You can never know what will start me thinking. More particularly, it was the trash can liner that got me going.
Trash can liners. Wow. Now there is something that most people probably never think about, including me up to now. But consider this; when I was very young, there were no plastic trash can liners. Now and then my mom might put a paper bag into the kitchen trash can, but if she put anything wet in there, that rendered it pretty much useless. So, whenever one of our household trash cans was full, you walked with the can out back of the garage where the rubbish cans were located and dumped out the contents. Dad favored old oil drums because the lids fit very tightly. I don’t think he gave much thought to the aching backs of the men who picked up our trash (there were no huge plastic waste cans and automated trash trucks back then). We had one can for kitchen garbage (and you were always sure to hose out the kitchen trash can after you dumped it), one for yard clippings and another one for all other waste. The oil drums got hosed out regularly so they wouldn’t get too nasty smelling. The yard clipping can would take several weeks to fill up and the others required a couple. It seems to me there was less waste when I was younger.
And actually, when I was very, very young, there was no curbside trash pick up. You took your waste to the dump yourself. That is, whatever of it that was not burnable in your backyard incinerator. Ours looked a lot like a free-standing fireplace with a heavy metal door, much like a blast furnace door. Everyone had one. But California banned them in 1958 in the war on smog. I can remember walking home from school and the smog was so bad on some days that I could hardly see for the tears in my eyes. I’m sure banning the incinerators helped. In any event, you were careful not to create too much waste because it was not always easy to get rid of it.
But back to trash can liners. You can probably figure where this is all going. It has to do with the environment and saving natural resources and all the stuff we take for granted and don’t really think about. Trash can liners are made from polyolefins and low and high density polyethylenes. Polyethylene is derived from natural gas and petroleum. Some manufacturers are recycling plastics to make their trash can liners. But realistically, most of them end up in landfills. Maybe in a million billion years they will turn back into petroleum. Who knows?
Where possible, Bernd and I reuse the plastic shopping bags, in which we bring our purchases home, as trash can liners, padding for packages and sometimes insulation. Even so,most bags simply find their way to the landfill where they mostly just sit undisturbed, holding within them the materials that would actually otherwise biodegrade (food refuse, garden clippings and leaves and the like). How stupid is that? They could be made from polylactic acid (PLA), a biodegradable polymer derived from vegetable-based lactic acid (there is still the pollution of its production to be considered). There is also a degradable polyethylene film, but it does not decompose in landfills and requires exposure to weather and ultraviolet light to degrade.
Most of the plastic shopping bags are made from polyethylene like the “official” trash can liners. One (mainly me) has to wonder how much petroleum we could save (and production pollution we could eliminate) if we all just stopped using plastic shopping bags and used those made of fabric and webbing over and over. And let’s go one step further and consider ending the use of trash can liners. Okay, so we’d have to go back to washing out our trash cans, but it’s a small thing compared to helping our environment. Right? Will I do this? I’m seriously considering it. We already have two stainless steel bathroom trash cans that we do not line and that I wash regularly. It’s a start.
It boggles my mind how easily we slide from one way of doing things into another. Three men, Canadians Harry Wasylyk, Larry Hansen and Frank Plomp, invent a trash can liner and suddenly we can’t live without it. Can’t conceive of not using one. Just take it all for granted. How many other things in our lives have we never wondered about? Things that surely warrant a second look.
Do you plan out your grocery shopping trips for the most efficiency or do you just hop in the car every time you run out of something? I grocery shop once a week and combine it with all my other errands. If we run out of something before the next shopping trip, we make do. Do you try to purchase items that have a minimum of packaging over those that are “insanely” packaged?
I do the bulk of my grocery shopping at Costco where they never send stuff home with you in paper or plastic shopping bags and I always decline a box (Costco recycles them). So I’m good there. But I will seriously have to get with the fabric shopping bag thing for my forays to WalMart and Fry’s. If I put the fabric bags directly back into my car after I get home, I will have them with me always. Then I just have to remember to take them in with me. No mean feat.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the convenience of buying foods in resealable plastic bags, though I may never look at them quite the same way again. And I’m not going to cure all the ills of the earth by eliminating plastic shopping bags and trash can liners from my life. But as a starting place, it sure couldn’t hurt. I will do my best to “see” where I can help. I never want to take the health of our planet for granted. And to my way of thinking, what’s good for Mother Earth is good for me too.