A Time for Reflection -
School has started, the leaves are beginning to turn – it must truly be mid-September. This year, September closely corresponds to the Jewish month of Elul which is the last month of the Jewish year. The next Jewish month, Tishrei, begins with Rosh Hashanah.
Why so much calendar discussion? Because Elul is that time of year when we begin to prepare for the High Holy Days. It is a time for reflection and cheshbon hanefesh – taking an account of our soul. We may be asking ourselves questions such as, “What have I accomplished since last year’s High Holy Days?” or, “Where have I fallen short?” or maybe, “What can I do better?”
It is a perfect time of year for us to consider our role in helping our tiny planet.
I promised that I would have some statistics or data from time to time. This month’s blog entry has a lot of information. It is also kind of depressing. Try to bear with me: it’s good to start from a place of knowledge. We can only change behaviors of which we are aware, right? So, while in the future this blogsite will look toward what we can do to make a difference this month’s blog – in the spirit of Elul – looks back on the past. Reflect, think and take stock, and remember that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (and the opportunity to make a positive change) are just around the corner!
Okay - here we go:
Plastic has been much in the news lately – so let’s start there. You may, or may not, be familiar with some of the issues of our overuse of plastic – here are just a few:
There is a garbage vortex, or gyre if you prefer, in the Pacific Ocean that is larger than the state of Texas (263,597 square miles)
It can take over 400 years (some experts say 1000 years) for many hard plastics to decompose. That first toothbrush you ever used? It still exists somewhere….
Plastic requires sunlight to degrade – so plastic in a landfill may never decompose – but it can still leach toxins into the soil around it.
Plastic in the ocean will eventually photodegrade (this is not the same as biodegrade – it just means that it gets broken into tinier and tinier pieces that hang out for a very, very long time), but it is full of toxins like BPA https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/bpa/faq-20058331 and PS Oligomer https://www.techbriefs.com/component/content/article/gdm/news/5661 and as the plastics break down, these toxins pollute the ocean water, which eventually pollutes our drinking water. This article talks about bottled water, but it also mentions our other drinking water and the air we breathe. https://time.com/5581326/plastic-particles-in-bottled-water/
Marine animals (including the microscopic variety) and seabirds eat the plastic and it gets into the food chain this way. Moreover, it offers no nutritional benefit to the animals that eat it.
“But wait,” you say, “I recycle!”
Well, you might think that you recycle. I’ve got some bad news about this as well: the countries that used to happily take our plastic for recycling? They have been inundated and they don’t want it anymore. A lot of it is coming home and it will wind up in the ocean or in landfill. According to National Geographic less than one-fifth of all plastic is recycled. In fact, in 2018 the U.S. recycled just 9% of its plastic trash https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2018/05/plastics-facts-infographics-ocean-pollution/ and it’s worse now.
Additionally, lots of stuff that we throw into our plastic recycling bin isn’t recyclable at all – for example, most city recycling programs cannot take black plastic and plastic clamshells, and many cannot take plastic bags. Recycling sorting machines have a hard time seeing the black plastic, for example, so it ends up in the garbage, which means landfill or ocean. If your city sorts by hand then they can take some of these items, but sometimes the dye that is used is problematic. And – if your truly recyclable containers are dirty or if the plastic bottles have the tops on them - the countries that still take our recycling often reject them. One dirty container can cause the whole lot to be rejected. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/29/climate/recycling-wrong-mistakes.html
Over the next several months, I will have a lot of suggestions for how you might reduce your plastic footprint but for now, here is something nice that you can do: thank your garbage and recycling collectors - they perform a difficult and dirty job. If your city does sort garbage and recycling by hand, give those people even more kavod(honor). Think about what that job must be like. Also, think about how you throw away anything sharp – and find some way to protect the garbage and recylcling sorters from it: crimp that can lid back down so there are no sharp edges and never try to recycle broken glass!
And, do not despair - Tishrei is coming.
Until then –