You went to City Hall in Oakland to support the City’s plastic bag ban. What kind of other “real-world” activities have you taken part in?
Well, one thing is that I belong to--I’m actually on the board now of an organization called Green Sangha, which is a spiritually based local environmental group. One of the things that Green Sangha has done, and that I’ve participated in, is handing out reusable bags at farmers’ markets and educating people about reusable bags. We write letters, and we also have a “Rethinking Plastics” PowerPoint presentation that we give to community groups, and schools and companies. I did that for Wells Fargo’s Green Team a while back, because somebody who reads my blog thought that it would be a good idea.
I’ve wondered how much of our “recycling” actually gets recycled. San Francisco accepts just about every kind of plastic in its recycling bins, but how much of it is really recycled?
There was an article recently--I think it was in the New York Times--about how a lot of our recyclables are piling up and getting landfilled because the market has just died. Most of our recycling is shipped to China--just about all of our plastic recycling is--so when we were doing the Brita campaign, we stressed that to Clorox. They told us that they were trying to get the Waste Management company to figure out a way to recycle the filters. And Waste Management, they don’t recycle anything, they just collect it and sell it, and everything goes to China. And we were, like, “No, no, no, that’s not the way!” So this is why we’re happy with what they came up with, because Preserve is a U.S. company, and all the recycling and all the manufacturing happens in the United States. [Learn how to recycle your Brita filter in the United States or Canada at http://www.preserveproducts.com/recycling/britafilters.html.]
That’s great. People feel so good about recycling, but we don’t really want to think about what’s going on downstream.
I know--I’m so beyond recycling at this point. I pushed on the Brita recycling only because I felt like water filters are something people turn to in order to give up something worse, which is bottled water. And some people need to filter their water. And at that point, there was no alternative; all the water filters were made from plastic and would be thrown away. There wasn’t a recyclable option, and there isn’t a non-plastic option, as far as I know. But otherwise my answer is to cut what needs to be recycled as much as I’m cutting what gets thrown away. My garbage is almost nothing; I’m trying to get my recycling down to almost nothing, too.
Are you looking at the world differently since you started Fake Plastic Fish?
I see plastic when I walk down the street. In the beginning, I was getting later and later and later for work, because I was compulsively picking everything up. Finally I just went, you know, I can’t pick up all the plastic in Oakland. So if it’s right there and it’s one of the worst things--like a plastic bag or a bottle cap or one of those little things that gets washed out [into the ocean]--I’ll pick it up. That’s a tangible thing; at least that bottle cap didn’t go into a bird. And then the cigarette butts, oh my god! It took me a while--I didn’t even think about cigarette butts, and then somebody pointed out to me that those are made from plastic and are the biggest source of litter on the beaches.
I don’t expect anyone else to be as compulsive and as extreme as I am. I look at myself as an example for what’s possible, but not for what everybody has to do. If people can just start with the biggest, most obvious things, which are bags and bottles. . . . I’ll just tell you one story. My friend Jen and I were at Rainbow [Grocery, in San Francisco] the other day, and we watched a woman in front of us with her canvas bags, and she had put every piece of produce in a separate plastic bag. She had filled up these canvas bags with plastic bags, and we just looked at each other with our mouths open.
Some people even put their bananas inside plastic bags.
You know, bananas have a wrapper! That’s the thing about fruit--it comes with a natural wrapper. . . . So anyway, if people can just think about what would be the easiest thing to give up, and just give it up, that would make a huge difference.