Tag Archives: plastic

Fridays for the Future #5 — Catalogs lead to plastic

Over the pandemic lockdown we did a lot more shopping online. One result of that shopping is we are now receiving  a whole new load of catalogs. Last week I decided to figure out what to do about my bulging mailbox. My journey led me to some places you may want to know about.

I looked in the catalogs themselves for how to unsubscribe. I did not find anything. It was daunting to think I would have to get into every company’s system to get out of it. So I Googled my problem (since I am WAY into that oppressive system).


Right away I found CatalogChoice. They are one of the many great ideas people have had in the last decade to combat climate change and pollution. In their case they are “keeping trees in the ground.” They will help you get off catalog lists.

They are a nonprofit and have no capacity to keep the USPS from doing what it does in service to consumer capitalism, nor can they get you off prospecting lists. They suggest you combine their service with DMA Choice. DMA Choice is another nonprofit that helps you curate the mailing lists you’re on or stop direct mail altogether.

Story of Stuff

Like most of my exploration of how to get into climate action (at least every Friday!) there was an unexpected good consequence of engaging. It turns out that CatalogChoice is an offshoot of the The Story of Stuff Project. I have been passing around one of their videos (The Story of Plastic) for a while.

This group of ambitious inventive people, based in San Francisco, have made a difference in how we make, use, and throw away stuff. They list some big fights their worldwide community has won:

Burning plastic

Jon Stewart’s first new show focused on the burn pits the U.S. Military created, especially in Iraq, that not only polluted the atmosphere but permanently damaged the soldiers who are now fighting for VA benefits. I did not know about that. One of the elements that make burn pits so toxic is plastic.

In The Story of Plastic, one fact caught my attention. The world increasingly uses plastic for fuel in its waste incinerators. Plastic is, after all, a fossil fuel. The European Union burns 42% of its waste, the U.S. 12%. Their expensive incinerator plants, which pollute less if properly equipped and maintained, require a constant source of plastic to fuel the constant burn they need to maintain.

The process is not part of a “circular economy” to which the EU is committed – no disposable products and a goal for all packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable. “When you take fossil fuels out of the ground, make plastics with them, then burn those plastics for energy, it’s clear that this is not a circle—it’s a line,” says Rob Opsomer of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which promotes circular economy efforts.

Another way to convert plastic waste to energy is through gasification, a process that melts plastics at very high temperatures in the near-absence of oxygen (which means toxins like dioxins and furans aren’t formed). A more attractive technology right now is pyrolysis, through which plastics are shredded and melted at lower temperatures than gasification and in the presence of even less oxygen. The heat breaks plastic polymers down into smaller hydrocarbons, which can be refined to diesel fuel and even into other petrochemical products—including new plastics.

Zero-waste advocates worry that any approach to converting plastic waste into energy does nothing to reduce demand for new plastic products and even less to mitigate climate change. “To uplift these approaches is to distract from real solutions,” says Claire Arkin, a campaigner with the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives — that is, solutions that allow people to use less plastic and reuse and recycle more.

It seems to me that continuing to compromise with giant oil companies (who are hurrying to build plastic manufacturing sites as we speak), delays the process of protecting us from climate disaster. They are committed to getting their product out of the ground and sold. As long as we protect that goal, keeping the temperature from rising past the point of no return seems unlikely. Better pray and work!

The Pacific Garbage Patch Inspires the Fast

The other day I had a rare moment to tune in to a news show and was reminded of the Texas-sized “gyre” of plastic debris that has formed in my beloved Pacific Ocean. The newscasters did the usual treatment of the subject. They brought out the now-famous Charles Moore whose chance encounter with the patch turned him into the “little guy” activist who is effectively tormenting the big plastic producers. Then they brought out the tormented spokesman for the plastics industry, direct from his office with a view of the capitol dome, to say that the whole thing was more hysteria than fact.

I offered two responses to this reminder as an introduction to our PM for the second Sunday of Lent last night.

1)     We live in an ocean of spiritual trash. Like poor albatrosses who fill their bellies with bottlecaps and die, we are tempted to fill our spirits (and bellies) with trash. It is deadly.

2)     Like the news show gave me a way to stand back and see what was going on, and also gave me a moment to stand back and interpret the meaning of the Pacific Garbage Patch, I am always in need of places in which to “stand back” and see the reality in which I live – whether it is an environmentally degraded earth or a spiritually-degraded society (which go together, don’t they?).

In Jesus, we have a place to stand. Paul says it vividly in Romans 5: “We have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” From the vantage point of grace we can see our situation and interpret it.

Lent is a season for getting some distance from the daily trash and seeing where we live and what we have become. Like researchers, we open up our spiritual stomachs and see whether we have ingested “bottle caps” of nonsense from the world. We need a long season for this practice, since humans are prone to actually believing that filling the ocean with undegradable plastic debris is no big deal. I had a personal experience of this one time while visiting Eleuthera. Our place came with a deserted stretch of seaward beach, which was spectacular. But the beach was filled with plastic debris and other detritus from ships. We were astounded at the quantity. It took a while before we could enjoy the beach with the debris. But we managed to tune out the degradation. Humans adapt to trash well. During Lent we fast from our adaptation to sin and death and take our brave stand in grace.

Our weekly PMs are similar places to stand. We need to find some distance to find some connection. We need to step away from our daily lives in order to find the meaning of our daily lives. Some people choose detachment, others choose immersion. We choose a rhythm of distancing that saves us from giving up or giving in. On our spiritual ‘island” of grace we can see the debris, rather than eat it. We learn to better differentiate among the bits of data and communication that masquerade as sustenance but are really filling our lives with undegradable nothingness.