Ready for a journey through our plastic-ridden lives? First stop: bathroom. Ohhh… Lordy.
As I gathered up the various plastic artefacts, I was close to becoming disheartened. The cheerful band of bottles and jars was a fine testament to how addicted we are to plastic (or at least to their contents) and how deeply it has pervaded our lives. There’s no doubt that this will be made more obvious to me as I move through the rooms of our apartment. But the experiment must go on.
I’ll start with what I call the ‘good guys’. Labeled with the chasing arrows numbered 1, 2, and 5, these groups at least have a fighting chance at being recycled.
Recycling plastic can be labor-intensive. Though the plastic indication code helps, there are 7 of them, and need to be sorted out accordingly. Notice that the consumer is not asked to separate them by number at the collection points. So imagine being a worker in a recycling plant, sifting through mountains of discarded plastic, peering at the bottom of bottles and jars and sending them correctly on their merry way. If the image you’ve conjured was that of an octopus, I daresay you weren’t the only one.
Bottles are often made from a different material from their caps, and only my facial scrub indicated this on its packaging.
I’ve been spared the ordeal of adding shower gel bottles to the count because we’ve started using only soap bars, which are happily sold in paper or cardboard packaging. We do own a plastic travel soap dish, but that’s recyclable, if it ever got damaged or broken.
These guys aren’t doing so well. There was no sign of the chasing arrows, or they were missing the appropriate numbers. I also noted with disappointment that the most cruel-free and natural product was included in this group.
What do the numbers mean?
The numbers in the plastic indicator code or PIC respond to the type of raw material they’re made from. They have different strengths and limitations, and I found this article quite helpful in understanding the hierarchy of recyclable plastics.
A note on the paraphernalia for contact lenses, which I have worn since I was 14. The amount of plastic items that go into contact lens wear, along with their constant replenishment, is enough of an argument to try laser eye surgery. Incidentally, on my recent trip back home to Malaysia, I had my vision rechecked and acquired a 6-month supply of soft lenses with my new prescription. Simultaneously, I started following the advice of Meir Schneider in his book Vision For Life, and I’m setting a mark at the end of those 6 months for a much improved vision. But that’s a story for another day …
These are the more permanent members of our bathroom. A number of them are already leading their second lives as upcycled plastic containers: our ‘his’ and ‘hers’ trays were once strawberry punnets from the supermarket, trimmed and wrapped with decorative paper. The toothbrushes are sadly not recyclable nor permanent, but are there to illustrate the upcycling of an ice cream tub. Hard plastic tubs for ice cream seems ridiculous, even for the best ever sea salt caramel, but we indulged a few times because we saw a use for the packaging.
Speaking of toothbrushes, I tried an ‘eco’ toothbrush once in New Zealand. Although the ergonomics could be improved upon (the one I used made me feel like I was about to have a blister on my lip), it is certainly something worth thinking about seeing that it’s something all of us (hopefully) use everyday. Check out this bamboo toothbrush.
Or you could try a miswak – that’s a twig of the mustard tree that has been used for ages in the Middle East and many a hadith have been quoted regarding the prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) advocating its regular use.
If you cared to research, you might find a number of scientific studies expounding the beneficial hygiencic properties of the miswak. I also came across The Blog of Unpublished Opinions which provides a bit of an intro to this ecologically viable alternative to a plastic toothbrush.
I’m sad to report that toothpaste tubes do not carry the recyclable triangle icon, and apart from the miswak, which does not require toothpaste, I haven’t found any eco-friendly packaging. But here’s a thought: could we perhaps use less of it? Apparently we can.
From “18 everyday products you’ve been using wrong,” the image above shows an adequate amount of toothpaste for cleaning your teeth. The reason it’s heaped on in advertisements is to make it look nicer, and so that we use it up faster.
There are a lot of things in our bathroom that we feel we can’t do without. Fair enough. However, one of the ways that I can hamper the cycle of plastic in and out of my house is to make things last. Knowing that we can always pick up another tube of gel or jar of cream at the store, we sometimes don’t think about how much we waste. Here’s another thought: is there a chance that we are not that dirty?
I don’t mean we should stop showering everyday. In fact, a good strong shower with agua caliente is absolutely sublime. The more suds the better! Or is it? Contrary to all the sudsy shower product commercials, I don’t personally believe that we need to disinfect ourselves, especially after a low key day. I once visited a cosmetics booth at the mall, where a lovely salesperson introduced me to a line of facial cleansers, toners and moisturizers. I was advised to wash my face with a gel, then a foam, then dab dry and wipe off with a toner, before applying a moisturizing base, and then hydrating cream. Do I really need all of that for my face? It’s not like it’s launched a thousand ships or anything, and even then…
I think that one way to buy less is to stop reading magazines. I’m serious. Every luminous spread you feast your eyes on had been put together by a host of people who are experts in every aspect of advertising: designers, researchers, marketers, psychologists. Then, they employ genetically endowed supermodels who have not even tried the product before the day of casting to flaunt their silky smooth skin and finely chiseled cheekbones. Then, they airbrush. Then, they show the ad to focus groups and have hours of coffee-fueled discussions. Then, they plaster it on billboards and slip it into magazines. AT LEAST a hundred people were involved in the process, subliminally whispering that you need smoother hair, softer skin, shinier teeth. And you’re just one person flipping through a glossy magazine while sitting on the loo.
Seriously, it’s way too much pressure.
Try it for a week: stop reading magazines, save money, and save the ocean. How’s that for a megawatt smile and a bounce in your step? :)
We started with rubber ducky, but I’m going to have to leave you with a different kind of bird. The following video shows part of a project by Chris Jordan who photographed dissected albatrosses in Midway Atoll, where plastic waste in the ocean is rife. I’ll leave you to watch what he has to show us, and decide if you want to carry on.
Rubber ducky in Hong Kong photos by Phillipe Lopez for AFP/Getty Images.
Mustard tree photo from An Absolute For Today.
Other links quoted.