Change of Heart

(photo by E.)

Again and again this is my fear: not so much of our being judged in the future as having been the last generation to possess the potential and the possibility–even if hugely diminished by the trajectory, momentum, and infrastructure of all the generations that preceded ours–to effect change of the most profound kind: not a change in knowledge, but in entire systems of logic, or even further, changes within the heart.

–Rick Bass

A change of heart or of values without a practice is only another pointless luxury of a passively consumptive way of life.

–Wendell Berry

When people ask me why we are taking this plastic fast, the easiest answers to articulate are the surface things. There’s our concern about the pollution associated with plastic manufacturing, the ocean’s plastic soup, the ramifications of a disposable consumer society, and the risks posed by plastics to human and environmental health.

But the truth is, I’m not doing this because of my concern about hormone disruptors leaching from the linings of tin cans (though I still think this is a good reason to avoid plastics, hormone disruptors are, sadly, so prevalent as to be unavoidable). It’s not because I think forgoing tortillas in plastic bags will save the lives of a marine turtle (my concern about the gyres is very real, but my contribution to it from New Mexico, where our rivers hardly make it out of town, let alone all the way to the sea, is negligible.) I am concerned about our plastic filled landfills contaminating ground water, but when we have plutonium waste up and down the other side of the watershed, it seems a bit nitpicky. So why plastic? Why bother?

Until I read the lines quoted above, it wasn’t easy for me to articulate the real reason behind our plastic fast. But it’s simple: We had a change of heart. Which changed our lives.

Yes, certainly — of course — we are undertaking this action as a symbolic protest and act of solidarity with the earth. But, as one of my pragmatic friends pointed out, plastic is not really the problem.

We are.

The reason we are doing this is because it was time to do something. Something more than we ever had before. Something we didn’t think was possible. Something that reflected our desire to live with less convenience and more intention. As in, intention that our grandkids will know we started waking up, and started changing our ways. Even in symbolic ways. Or especially in symbolic ways.

I know it is enormously overwhelming when we start thinking of all the things we think we should be doing, that we want to do. Where to begin? Where to end? (Is there an end point?) For us, plastic was the starting place. It could have been anything, really. But it was this. A small, simple action that nevertheless felt like a powerful way to change our lives. And it has, friends. It has.

There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground, Rumi said. Same goes for living more lightly. All we need to do is touch our hearts, and begin.

Hello, Goodbye: Getting Ready for Life After Plastic

This well-loved and sun bleached trike was dropped off by a friend a month or so ago, and we so appreciate the timing. If it had been offered in the new year, we wouldn’t have been able to accept. That’s the terms of the plastic fast (January 1-May 1) we’ve committed to: Love what you got, make do without what you don’t. We’ve been getting ready to live by this motto for several months now, not so much stocking up (see exceptions below) as learning how to live without the things we once thought were so essential. In the process, we’ve been saying hello to some new products and goodbye to others. In no particular order, the things on my mind these final days are:

Hello:

:: Hello Glue in a can. I love making small books and collages, and burn through glue sticks like nobody’s business.

:: Hello chevre, yogurt, and sour cream cultures. I ordered them from here, and am stocking up as they unfortunately come in tiny plastic bags.

:: Hello mineral pigments in metal tins. Goodbye liquid makeup in a tube.

:: Hello water activated paper tape. Yep, there are times when string just won’t do the job.

:: Hello Compressed natural cellulose sponges. I’d love a Skoy cloth or two, but rags will have to do.

:: Hello fruit juice sweetened ketchup, the only one I can find in a glass jar. It’s good for us, right?

:: Hello cloth baby wipes. A solution of 2 tbsp baby oil, 2 tbsp baby shampoo, and a cup of water make cleaning bums a breeze. I also stack a few to the needed thickness for menstrual pads. We’ve been using cloth diapers since our daughter was born, but not always at night. So bye, bye disposables.

:: Hello renewed sense of right livelihood and balance.

Goodbye:

:: So long, Braggs, beloved condiment that has been with me all my days. I still can’t figure out what you actually are, but I’m forsaking you for tamari from the bulk section of the co-op.

:: Goodbye, condoms. At a mining museum I once saw old tins that held one reusable, animal gut “shield.” As far as I know, nothing like that is available today (or actually effective). Instead we’ll continue using Fertility Awareness (which has worked for us for ten years), and hoard our little stash of latex for fertile day emergencies.

:: Bye, bye, Monterey Jack. We can buy bulk cheddar and baby swiss (and bring it home in a tiffin), but no jack. I’ve been making lot’s of simple soft cheeses and appreciate the way they’ve expanded my culinary world, but this is a favorite, and we’ll miss it.

:: Farewell, contact lenses and associated waste. Hello glasses! (Not me, him.)

:: Adios, cheap underwear and socks from big box stores.

:: So long, canned tomatoes and coconut milk. I’ll keep writing letters to your manufacturers asking them to package you in glass, but until, then, be well.

:: Good riddance, Ebay.

:: Bye for now, snack food for kiddos. Okay, I’ll confess, I bought C. a giant bag (no cardboard) of O’s, but have stashed them in a jar for emergencies.

:: And a fond farewell to feelings of guilt and powerlessness. Thank you for propelling us to make these changes!

::

If the things on these lists seem, well, minor, they are (but let’s talk again in February, shall we?) That’s what I’ve learned during these months of weaning off plastic – we don’t actually need (much of) it. Some exceptions that my pragmatic side asks me to acknowledge our need for are:

:: The occasional plastic cap on milk bottles and the like. Before buying plastic parts I’ll try to go without, or make my own (mayo and toothpowder, for example). We’ll be saving all plastic that makes it’s way into our home, maybe for a fabulous art project if that glue turns out to be worth a dime.

:: Motor oil. Our cars are old, efficient, and kept alive by regular transfusions of oil. But we’ll try to keep it to a minimum by driving as little as possible.

:: Cat food. I’m not planning to make Nippy give up wet food, though one friend pointed out that if I really cared I’d make it for her. I guess we all have our limits. I’m having trouble finding dry food in a paper bag not lined with plastic. Suggestions? As for cat litter, let’s just say Nippy will be spending more time outdoors.

For more on changes we’ve made to make trips to the grocery store plastic free (easily the biggest hurdle), read this post. The long-time plastic-free blogger Fake Plastic Fish has a much more comprehensive list of changes and alternatives here.