Plastic World


Camp sat down with a heavy sigh at our usual table.

‘What’s up? Trouble at the home front, the store or the world?’ I said.

‘All of the above. Muriel is tired of the weather and commuting into the city and wants a change. The store is kind of in a funk after the holidays and I hope it’s just a lull. Book buyers are becoming a rare breed. And the world? Don’t even get me started.

I read a great satire in the New Yorker by Bob Vulfov about how aliens want to take over planet earth, install a cretin as leader, rob it of its resources, destroy the ecosystem and render it unlivable. Then they found out that we’re doing all that to ourselves already and take off to look for other worlds to destroy.’

We looked out through the curtain of rain  at the grey choppy waters of Howe Sound and I wanted to talk about plastic. Plastic bags, our addiction to plastic and the ensuing damage thanks to the indestructible polyethylene molecule.

‘I notice that you don’t give out free plastic bags at your book store,’ I said

‘No, I reuse some plastic bags and we supply paper bags, probably made from recycled books for all I know,’ Camp said.

‘Did you know that more than one million plastic bottles are bought and sold each and every minute of the day around the world?’

‘I’m not surprised,’ Camp said, ‘and drinking water from plastic bottled is just stupid.’

‘Something like 100 million tons of polyethylene is produced annually and about six percent of global oil production goes into plastics and forty percent of that is used for plastic bags. And production is going up, dramatically, every year. Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year and worldwide we use five trillion, that is 160’000 a second. That’s over 700 a year for every single person on earth,’ I said, quoting from my pocket Moleskin.

‘Where do you get all this crazy information? Never mind. I do the same. What would we do without Google. When I grew up there were no plastic bottles and no Google. We had door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen. Just looking around I can see plastic everywhere, from the serving trays to the window frames, even my windbreaker is synthetic and my sneakers, not to mention the smart phone.’

‘Are you two ready for another one?’ Rosy, our waitress today, asked. Vicky would have just brought another round without asking. ‘And what are you two talking about on this gloomy January evening?’

‘Plastic and the curse of it for the planet,’ Camp said.

‘Yeah, well. That’s progress,’ she said. ‘No idea what life was like without it.’

‘We have to thank a DuPont engineer for developing and patenting PET in 1973 – polyethylene terephthalate, basically the same plastic molecule that goes into all bottles and bags – and Coca Cola to embrace the new technology and replace their glass bottles.’

‘Plastic bottles are valueless,’ I said. ‘Maybe a deposit on them would at least entice people to return them, just like wine and beer bottles. Even Coca Cola is part of this solution.’

Last month Coca-Cola announced that Customers in Canada can buy a reusable cup that has a radio-frequency identification (RFID) and is synced to the company’s Freestyle machines. The machines, which are already found in some movie theatres and restaurants across the country, allow a customer to pour a drink into the bottle and charge it to their account.’

‘That’s because they are listening to the consumers but plastic is here to stay. PET doesn’t break down; it just breaks up into minute particles which enter the planets food chain and drinking water. It’s now everywhere, from the top of Everest to the bottom of the Mariana Trench,’ Camp said, emptying his beer with a flourish.

‘How would you boys like to pay? Plastic or cash?

‘Even our money is made from plastic. How about put it on my tab Rosie.’

‘Let’s just be glad that beer doesn’t come in plastic bottles,’ Rosie said.

‘Truly, something to be thankful for,’ Camp agreed.

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