The Unspoken Secrets of Trash

Trash and litter will tell us a lot, if we take time to consider their presence. Yesterday, on returning from a walk around the block, I found four pieces of trash at the edge of our lawn. Curiously, all four pieces were white – a piece of paper towel, a thin sheet of plastic packaging foam, a plastic snack pack with a picture of a goofy snowman and a dryer sheet. White trash!

The term “white trash” is a derogatory term that refers to the wretched and landless poor white people who have existed from the time of the earliest British colonial settlement to today’s hillbillies. This white trash in our yard, however, was something different.

I have been teaching third grade students about single-use plastic, which is plastic unfit for the recycle bin that ends up in a landfill. Single-use plastics include styrofoam packaging materials, potato chip bags, plastic netting (used to bag ham, fruits and vegetables), snack packaging, candy wrappers and the list goes on. When people start to notice all the single-use plastic being tossed into the waste basket, it can be surprising just how much there is.

I got to wondering about the dryer sheet? How bad could a dryer sheet be to the environment. I looked for an ingredients list on the Bounce box sitting above our clothes dryer. No ingredients were listed, so I did some online research. The ingredients were missing from the manufacturer’s website. Then I found myself on Dr. Axe’s website where I read, “the current United States Consumer Product Safety Commission does not require dryer sheet manufacturers to list actual ingredients, including the chemicals used in fragrance blends.”

Further down the web page I read, ” In one of the most interesting studies to date, pioneering fragrance researchers Anne Steinemann, PhD, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, looked at the chemicals spewing out of dryer vents… Seven hazardous air pollutants and 25 volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some of these, including acetaldehyde and benzene, are not safe at any level. (These are also pollutants that commonly spew out of vehicle tailpipes.)”

Steinemann comments, “These products can affect not only personal health, but also public and environmental health. The chemicals can go into the air, down the drain and into water bodies.” Time to stop wasting good money buying dryer sheets. They’re trash.

Yes, trash and litter will tell us a lot, if we take time to consider their presence.

Read my recent article about Clean Ocean Access and how the organization is working on getting plastic waste off our beaches and out of our waterways.

The Last Straw

Patch news recently reported that a local senator has introduced bill S202 to limit plastic in Rhode Island. The bill attempts to follow suit to a straw law that went into effect in California on January 1. Although completely in support of reducing plastic waste, I disagree with this king of legislation. There is little doubt that straws litter the nation’s shorelines and have disastrous consequences for marine life. What I take issue with is pinning the responsibility and the penalty on restaurants: “Establishments in violation of the law would receive a notice of violation for the first and second offenses.”

EcoRInews reports “Restaurants may offer straws made of paper, pasta, sugar cane, wood, or bamboo. Each violation incurs a $25 fine, not to exceed $300 in a year. The state director of health would enforce penalties.”

Restaurants do not toss litter into waterways and onto beaches; careless individuals do. The senator argues that curtailing the use of plastic straws in restaurants will encourage consumers to think twice about their own footprint. It will, if waitresses politely explain the Last Plastic Straw Challenge, which encourages bars and restaurants to eliminate plastic pollution at the source by only providing plastic straws upon request. This law is requiring restaurants to educate their customers.

Many Rhode Island restaurants are already doing this of their own conscious free will, and the movement is catching on. Food server, Lori Rinkel, got permission from the manager of Tickets restaurant, in Middletown, to post a sign that says “Please consider going strawless! The ocean thanks you!” Rinkel does not put a straw in any drink ever that she serves. “If someone asks for a straw, I ask them if they really need it, and probably go overboard by telling them that it takes 200 years for that straw to decompose, and it never really does and that we use 500 billion straws a day in the U.S. alone. Then I usually tell them, ‘I am going to get fired over straws!’ The majority of my customers are thankful of the information, and I tell them ‘This is one simple thing you can do to help our environment, it is so easy.’”

There was a campaign in Newport this summer called #strawlessbythesea. Most of the restaurants on Broadway joined in. Campaigners updated Instagram with the corporate companies that are getting away from plastic straws, including McDonalds, Disney World and Starbucks, to name a few. Meg’s Aussie Milk Bar on Bellevue Avenue in Newport takes a slightly different tack, offering reusable stainless steel straws and straw cleaning brushes for sale at the cash register. With all this recent activism, people are starting to say “No straw, please,” when ordering water and drinks.

S202 was referred to the Senate Committee on the Environment and Agriculture, and a hearing date has yet to be announced. Do we really need a straw law? I do hereby summon the Straw Man. The term straw man generally means a person or an argument that is set up to be knocked down, usually to make a point. I invite you to take a shot, or stand behind him. Share your thoughts in the comments section of this blog.

Learn more about real Plastic Waste Reduction Heroes… btw, the straws featured in the artwork above are plant-based and biodegradable.