Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Disposable Straws and Such

I read an article in the Boston Globe on Sunday about disposable straws. I have three glass straws, remnants of my childhood. Impractical but so lovely; each one has a different shell worked into the bottom, which made them the perfect tool for stirring Bosco into milk. When I was sick, my mother would bring me ginger ale in a special glass with one of these straws. I would have neither memory nor memento if all we'd had were disposable straws. 

I regret our current attitude of impermanence. We buy goods with the full knowledge that we will use them a short while, and then cast them aside. Goods made with the understanding that they will soon be soon discarded and replaced surely must be made with less care. 

There were, of course also disposable straws when I was a child. They were made of paper, so they were biodegradable (not only in landfill but, eventually, in your drink). Today's straws are made of polypropylene and, according to the young man being profiled in the Boston Globe article, fourth-grader Milo Cress (which would make a great name for a character in a novel) 500,000,000 (that's five-hundred million) disposable straws go into landfill every day. Where they will remain forever. Ironically, although not designed to keep, they, like all the other disposable items, will last indefinitely. Milo thinks, and I agree, that this accretion in landfills is thoughtless and unnecessary. 

Why do we even have straws? They have nothing to do with hygiene. You wouldn't consider ordering a straw with your martini at a restaurant, or with a beer. The very earliest straws, according to Wikipedia (so you might want to verify this) were actually made of straw, hardly hygienic. Ironically, those ancient straw straws were designed to reduce the amount of solids you consumed while drinking your glass of home-brew. If straws have nothing to do with hygiene and we don't need them to filter out the solids in our beer, why do we need straws for our iced tea, iced coffee, seltzer, sodas, or water? 

Apparently, (according to Wikipedia again) the one real advantage that straws can claim is helping to reduce cavities. When one sips a sugary beverage through a straw, the contact between the drink and your teeth is reduced. Given the obesity epidemic in this country, why not order a glass of water and decline the offer of a straw and solve two problems? 

Admittedly, straws are useful for youngster with undeveloped gross motor skills, unable to hold a glass, but, surely, these tots contribute only a small percentage of the 500,000,000 straws going into landfill. 

Milo Cress makes a good point, I think, when he says that restaurants need to start offering customers straws only if they request one. And customers, we need to remember that those little plastic tubes we think we need, will get discarded, but they will not go away.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Transitions and Transformations

Today I am thinking about transformation as all around me the Vermont landscape moves from brown to green-gold to emerald. The goldfinches at my feeder are now bright yellow. (Can one use the adjective "canary" to describe the color of a goldfinch?) Just a week ago they were dun colored. Transformation suggests complete alteration, rather than simple rearranging or updating. Winter into spring is a transformation. Spring into summer is a transition. When someone updates our computer system or rearranges the products on the shelves at our grocery store, we experience a transition. When the caterpillar unfurls itself into a butterfly, we experience a transformation. I have a sense of awe and wonder as I watch my surroundings become transformed, as though an unseen hand is at work.