Plastic Depression

/ˈplastɪk/ noun

a synthetic material made from a wide range of organic polymers such as polyethylene, PVC, nylon, etc., that can be moulded into shape while soft, and then set into a rigid or slightly elastic form.

depression

/dɪˈprɛʃ(ə)n/noun

feelings of severe despondency and dejection. Similar: unhappiness, misery, sadness, sorrow woe.

Is it a thing? You may ask. Based on my personal experience, I believe it is, it should be, it has ought to be thing? Back in those Bachelor Degree days in Chicago, the faculty members and classmates of Department of Department of Environmental Science and Studies loved joking about how we might not be able to make it through graduation without getting depressed. On Tuesday, we dive into issues about environmental injustice on how communities of the color and the poor are disproportionately exposing to pollutions. Oh, and of course racism dictates who gets dumped on too. On Wednesday, we don’t wear pink. We put on our crisp white lab coat to figure out the presence of microplastics/pollutants/pathogens from water samples collected in nearby water sources. On Friday, we learn about the melting sea ice positive feedback loop in Earth Sciences. As you may know, positive in science is rarely positive – future days in the Arctic will only be seeing amplification (pass the tissue, please).

In class, we never settle on the world as it is as unveiled by our professors who were once retired scientists, paid thinkers, and policy makers. We debate, we criticize, we question, we reflect, we cry occasionally. On the good days, we stay hopeful and believe that the solutionists stand before the stage of Ted Talks will save the world. On the bad days, we are loss of hope and courage to play the role of good citizens to the Earth to right the many many levels of wrong civilization has brought upon.

To be fair, there is no complete blackout of hope. Our silver linings are upon seeing the recycling symbols on bins, the bottle of water we bought, the shampoo that we can’t live without. Segregating waste, tossing things into the recycling bins, rejecting plastic grocery bags, saying no to plastic straw all make us feel like a temporal hero. These small actions make us feel better, worthy, responsible, enough and happier that there is something we can do to be kinder to the environment. Lies that we tell ourselves, driven by the desperation to feel better. We consciously and selectively turn off the intellect gained from years of subject-matter studies.

Truth be told, no amount of recycling will save the world because that is not a solution targeted at source. Approximately 6300 Mt of plastic waste had been generated in human history as of 2015, only around 9% of which had been recycled, 12% was incinerated, and 79% was accumulated in landfills or the natural environment. Should we be using less plastic? The popular narrative would love us to believe so. But no, the baton of ruins is not in the hands’ of users, it is with the producers of plastics. The real unfortunate part is, we collectively think that it is easier to promote personal life zero waste ideology around immediate social circle, doing small things ourselves than to violently (not fist) challenge genuinely impactful change makers like policy makers, politicians, businesses to stop giving us terrible synthetic options in life. I understand that it is part of life fulfillment to think that we are making some kind of difference to the world. If we can collectively pick up small cues to do the harder things in personal life such as consciously saying no to plastic bags, why not we go bolder beyond personal action to collectively confront the issues more rationally to the most impactful stakeholders?

2019 is the year that truths around our state of the world surface even more fiercely. 2019 started with the nasty residue of China’s ban on taking the world’s trash — more plastic is sent to the landfills; more trash that we assumed recyclable is burned; more recycling facilities (as contrary to popular belief, they are usually responsible in sorting rather than actual recycling) in other parts of the world were closing down as they could no longer sell their accumulated trash stock to China as material processing. Towards the end of 2019, anyone who is concerned about the climate can feel the psychological strain escalated along with the Amazon fires that had cleared way too many hectares of Earth’s green lungs in Brazil and Paraguay; the U.N. Climate Summit in Madrid ended with big CO2 emitters running away freed of responsibility for another year; Greenland is melting ice way faster than Victoria Beckham burns her breakfast calories. President Donald Trump revealed to us just how much power and profits fear climate crisis activism despite the staggering age difference — fear is fear.

For those ‘Earthy’ folks who read the reports published by IPCC like the next issue of Cosmopolitan, most must’ve almost popped antidepressants. Human actions are degrading soils, expanding deserts, flattening forests and driving other species to the brink of extinction. Same old stories, but on an increasingly alarming rates, sea waters are rising, ice is melting and species are being forced to move. Nothing is new, nothing spells hope, nothing puts me into a silent dejection faster than seeing my essential dietary ingredient — eryngii mushroom dressed in chic plastics, adorned with plastic tape, resting amongst its plastic-clothed pals at the grocery. Plastic-clothed broccoli, plastic-clothed cheese, plastic-clothed carrots, plastic-clothed banana. All waiting for polyester-clothed humans to adopt them off the Modern Lifestyle Orphanage Home.

According to my therapist (self-employed), the triggers of my plastic depression also include the facts that :

  • Small items like lipstick cases or under a 6-ounce package size will get screened out or caught in the disposal stream for the facility that sort recycling. Since these machines are automated with optical and physical sorter machines. Little containers like lipstick tubes can get missed by sorting machines and thrown into the trash — and back into a landfill. Imagining a rough figure on the amount of lipsticks Kylie Jenner had sold and will be selling, and looking at how many young female entrepreneurs are venturing into the lipstick market. I need stronger pills.
  • In terms of recycling, the color of the container matters. Optical sorters do not recognize black plastic; only glass, clear, brown, and green are preferred for recycling programs. The odd-colored glass is more problematic to recycle.
  • Pouches and squeezable tubes usually can’t be recycled because these packaging are multilayer or multimaterial in format. That means that there is a coating or film in the inside the package or the object is made up of different types of plastic. Certain flexible pouches (like resealable pouches with face masks) and toothpaste tubes are considered multilayer and should be thrown in the trash unless the package explicitly states that you can recycle it. Great.
  • Pumps and droppers are also red flag in recycling. These are multimaterial. A solo cap often is too small to go through the sorting system and will end up in the trash.
  • On top of all these no-no’s, most people do not know that they have to rinse out content before putting it in recycling, This matters significantly, and often determine if it will ever, get recycled at all.

Happy recycling, xoxo.

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