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Friday, December 30, 2011

Being Gifted with Plastic

The holidays are drawing to a much new plastic did you take in this week?  How much went out?  Are you somebody who thinks about these things?  In my little corner of the world, I sometimes feel like an alien.  I worry about plastic.  I think about it a lot.  I try not to bring it into my life.  But then there are the times when I receive a gift.  What if that gift is plastic?  What is the common courtesy around such things?

Here's an example:  Our elementary school decided to sell Smencils.  They are pencils that fruit or gum or whatever else.  I had a little talk with my sons and we all decided we didn't need smelly pencils, especially since we had enough pencils and the Smencils each come in a plastic tube to keep the smell intact.  The tube claims that it is biodegradeable (I am currently testing this out to see how long that actually takes and whether it works at all).  The Smencils come to the school in #3 (PVC) plastic tubs.  (Yeah, that's PVC, the 'poison plastic' - doesn't recycle many places and is toxic from start to finish.  The tubs are now sitting in my garage because our PTO pres. gave them to me to use in the classrooms as Terracycle collection tubs - but I don't want any more PVC in our school, so I am determined to find a place that will recycle them.  This is stressful to me, though, as I really wish we did not buy pencils packaged in plastic inside of plastic!)  So, back to my story....I tell the PTO pres. that it really is OK that my kids do not get Smencils...since our school has a policy that everyone gets a Smencil, even if they can't afford to order one for themselves.  But people are allowed to buy Smencils for other people, so that's exactly how we ended up with a Smencil.  My next-door neighbor bought a Smencil for my son.  A nice gesture.  He accepted the Smencil happily with a 'Thank you' and brought it home from school.  Did I tell the PTO about the issues I had with Smencils before they started selling them? - yes.  Smencils are marketed as eco-friendly, so when I told them, they had the same reaction they have to most of my anti-plastic statements....not again!  Why do I think about these things?  Don't I know how cool Smencils are?  They are made of recycled newspapers.  Do I want to deny our kids the joy of experiencing them?

I went to the mother/son dance last year with my then-1st-grader.  They had a dance contest and he won a prize.  The DJ handed him something and he came over to show me what it was:  a set of plastic teeth with a battery inside.  When you bite the plastic, it lights up inside your mouth.  Packaged in plastic.  Great!  Just what we needed!  My son knew that this was not a good gift, but what could we do with this item now?  We could give it away and it would still end up dying in a landfill or the ocean or elsewhere, stuff leaking out of the battery, if it didn't already leak into some poor child's mouth!

Every class party, my kids bring home treat bags.  I usually cringe before opening them, because I know what they are full of:  plastic dollar store trinkets and candy, all wrapped in plastic.  Full of good intentions, but nothing that we needed or wanted.

So what do you do with gifts like these?  I think the only thing you can really do is educate ahead of time and hope that people will listen to your requests.  When they don't, I'm not sure there is much you can do unless you want to alienate these people from your life.  People have told me I should just give the things away to 'those who don't have toys and who would appreciate them'.  It's not that I don't appreciate the thought, it is that I don't appreciate the harm that comes from these things.  And I don't really want to pass that along to another person.  It's the same way I feel about donations to the food bank:  If it's not something I would want to eat, why would I want to give it to another person?

So to anyone reading this who is thinking about giving me a gift, please hear me when I say:  Your smile, your presence, the delightful sound of your laughter, the funny stories you tell, your delicious homemade cookies, the way you put up with me and still stick around...all of these are my most treasured possessions, the things that I want from you.  If it is plastic, please do not buy it for me or my family.  And if you invite me for dinner on plastic plates, please do not be offended if I take them home to reuse and if the next time I eat at your house I bring my own plates.  Thank you very much!!!

p.s. - Thank you, Mom, for hearing me about the plastic!  It is a shame that those earwarmers had to come packaged in a hard plastic case, but other than that, you did not add to my plastic tally this Christmas - yeah!!!  We didn't buy much for Christmas this year.  It really warmed my heart when my middle son told me that his favorite gift was a book of bedtime stories since he would get a chance to read them to us every night.

Have a peaceful, less-plastic-filled New Year!!!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

End of the Year Thoughts

Hello, Dear Friends!  It has been much too long - my apologies for being out of touch!!

What have I been doing?  Clearing out.  After almost 6 years in our new house and having 3 sons, we accumulated a lot of stuff.  When I look around, I wonder how it is possible that we have so much stuff, most of which we don't need and the things that bother me the most are the things that I'm sure nobody needs:  useless plastic.  Toys that were given out at class parties that broke within days and now sit in a box, waiting for a creative reuse opportunity.  The only problem is that the box is now overflowing and nobody seems overly eager to make a plastic creation that will ultimately end up in the landfill or one of our oceans.

Straws and plastic lids....when I finally came to my senses and decided to stop doing fast food, we had a few slips along the way.  But I couldn't bare to throw the straws and lids away, so they also went in a box.  The straws make great construction toys and we've made lots of straw buildings and more, but now what?

I always had a hard time throwing things away, but now I really struggle because I know where it will go.  There is no away.  So I am taking my time.  Clearing out.  Clearing my mind.  Being very careful about what I bring in, because it will eventually have to go out again.

The other day, a friend called me to ask if I knew where we could recycle DVD players.  Yep, I do.  I said I'd take it since I have been given others and I will be making a trip there soon.  She said her daughters were getting a new one for Christmas.  I looked at the personal DVD player staring at me in perfect condition.  For the heck of it, I plugged it in.  It is in perfect working condition!  It will now be a Christmas present for my sons.  This friend is one of my biggest Terracyclers and I'm so thrilled that she wanted to recycle the DVD player, but I'm sad that she didn't think of giving it a new life first.  I know we live in a 'throw-away' society, but we need to turn this around!

Yesterday, I celebrated my grandfather's 95th birthday with him.  He is the kind of guy who will tape his glass frames until they can't be taped anymore.  His trash can is a milk carton that he keeps near his sink.  It rarely gets full in a week.  When things break, he fixes them.  If he doesn't need it, he doesn't buy it.

Which brings us to the topic of 'need'.  This week, I saw a picture that summed up some things that I've been thinking about a lot this season:
(I found this online from Pastor Kevin Stowe, but am not sure of the original creator).

My husband was telling me we don't have anything exciting to put under the tree this year for our sons.  To me, that IS exciting, because what we have to give them is exactly what they need:  our time, our care, our love, our example.

Why have we become a society of people who 'need' so much?

When we think about what we truly need, we often find that we can have it in abundance if we just care enough to see it.

I think it's safe to say that almost all of us could give up some physical gift this holiday season.  We could give up the money spent on gas, tolls, time spent in line, impatience and rudeness toward others from overcrowding at stores, etc.  Instead, we could join together in love and peace and help heal the world.  I guess to a lot of people, that sounds like a fantasy.  We are the creators of our reality.  Together we can make a difference. 

I wish you peace, love and joy this holiday season and into the new year!