Who else grew up with these commercials promoting all the joys and benefits of plastic?
Mr. Gumdrop showed me a few of these from his childhood last night and I was laughing but also amazed at how much things have changed since our childhoods. Growing up in Canada, I don’t think we had any organizations actively promoting plastic but I was still definitely surrounded by it. I still am.
When I heard about Plastic-Free July, I was impressed and a little uncomfortable – I want to do it but I’m worried about the things I’ll have to give up. After mentally checking off the things I will have to forgo (or find alternatives for) I decided that the potential for new habits and growth is more important to me than the packaged Western food and packaging that bring me convenience and comfort. I’m definitely someone who medicates my anxiousness with my chosen comforts and I can tell if I’m struggling with life balance if I’m constantly trying to make purchase or nibble of dairy or sugar (my vices!). Some weeks I feel the frustration of trying to balance work and mommy time and still find time for myself and my relationship, but if I stay organized, I know I do have room in my life to examine our inputs. And I’m kind of excited about the opportunity.
I just started this book, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible, and the opening paragraph resonates with me so much, especially when I’m feeling the weight of the world.
“Sometimes I feel nostalgic for the cultural mythology of my youth, a world in which there was nothing wrong with soda pop, in which the super bowl was important, in which America was bringing democracy to the world, in which the doctor could fix you, in which science was going to make life better and better, and they just put a man on the moon.”
His point isn’t to bash the super bowl, but to point out that it was easier to live in denial of the complexities of our lives and systems then. I try not to dwell on it, but I do worry about the world Jujube will inherit, with projections that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
North American countries have trash systems and policies that make the problem less in our faces, but living in Thailand where one-time-use plastic is rampant and recycling isn’t, plastic refuse is just – everywhere. We try to keep in mind that the Thai-way is not always our way and do our best to be observers and listeners first. Thailand has so much to teach its visitors. We first heard of the Thai philosophy Paw Piang in the southern islands from a wiry beachside sage who collected plastic off the beach when he wasn’t casually renting kayaks to tourists, seashell-hunting, or relaxing with friends in his homemade bungalow.
We have since seen this philosophy in action and heard it used by young and old from beachy Koh Lipe way off the southern tip to hilltribes in Mae Hong Son province. It means “self-sufficiency” and encourages people to live within their means. While the U.S. has been promoting capitalist growth and trying to convince everyone to buy bigger cars and houses using credit card debt, Thailand has been promoting a sufficiency economy, where communities and families have enough. I was so intrigued!
In the urban areas of Thailand these days, capitalism and single-serve culture have crept in so fast and diminished both the pristineness of natural resources and the country’s “Gross Happiness Product (GHP)”. Farther out into the mountains though, many people still use banana leaves and woven bamboo for wrapping and carrying food and most people still remember when everyone did, before plastic took over only a few decades ago.
It’s hard to watch but for us it’s important to realize that real change will be done by Thai people themselves, because however long we live here, we will always be guests. As visitors who participate in the local economy, what we do have to offer is purchasing power. If locals are trying to offer us the convenience and good service and experience of to-go cups, styrofoam takeaway containers and other plastic solutions, we can take a look at what other Thais might consider an alternative and choose that. We can talk with locals and other expats and try to find ways to live better together in big and small ways. In preparation for this challenge I was looking around and trying to figure out how we would get food to go without using packaging. I feel like bringing glass containers are a pretty cumbersome option. I looked around and realized that Tiffin boxes were a practical, beautiful answer that locals had already discovered (some versions are becoming popular in the US). How did I not notice this before?
We’re hoping to find a second-hand set in preparation for this month but our neighbours have been using them since we moved in. I just can’t get over how attractive these are and feel like Thailand has been keeping this secret right under our noses.
For many reasons, we’ve decided that this time in Thailand for us is about having space for trial and error towards a more sustainable life. We are aware of how much we are still entrenched in habits of consumption and sometimes it seems hopeless, but it’s important to recognize any progress as improvement- a subtle act that continues to raise our personal and cultural bar. We suspect that we will learn a lot this month as this exercise will highlight all the ways plastics creep into our lives and we’ll be able to take those observations and newly formed habits forward into the future.
If you’re up for the challenge wherever you are, you can join the facebook event or just take the Pesky Plastics quiz to see where you’re at. We will definitely be practicing “non-judgment” for ourselves and our friends who are on board. Anything we do acquire, we’ll put in a jar so we can see our outcome. We are just committing to do our best, and I’m excited about it.