Sorry Plastic, Anji's playing anymore

Posted: Friday, April 02, 2010

Anji Gallanos pays attention. To her family and friends, to her community, and (importantly) to herself. She's an idea person, but also a realist, so her friends never roll their eyes at "Anji's crazy ideas." In fact, just the opposite - we usually offer help, for fear of being left pitifully behind. So I've learned to pay attention to Anji.

Anji and I have been friends for seven years, since she moved to Juneau with her husband and boys. I've watched her shift regularly between mother, wife, educator, researcher, activist, entrepreneur, and artist. Sometimes with grace, sometimes not, she readily admits. But real friends let you learn from both their mistakes and their successes - another reason I pay attention to Anji: I always learn something helpful.

So I was interested when Anji recently began paying attention to plastics - the harm they do to humans and the planet, therefore to Juneau and her family - because she had stumbled onto an issue affecting all of her worlds, from mother to artist.

First, as an artist and entrepreneur she stopped using plastics in her creations and the packaging in which she markets them. That was easy, because she controls her work. But then, as mother and wife, she tried to eliminate her home use of plastic. That's when she discovered the problem: it's apparently no longer possible. How had it happened?

Anji the researcher stepped in. She needed to know how much plastic her family used, and for what. How much of that plastic had realistic alternatives? And what were other families doing? So she started the group "No New Plastics Juneau" on Facebook and asked several families to join her for a one-week plastics fast, and to report their findings back to the group.

I signed up for the plastics fast, and was pretty glib about it. How hard could it be? Don't let any new plastic into my home for a week, and don't throw any plastic away. With a plan for cloth bags and glass storage containers, and no more plastic toys for my daughter, I became a fan of No New Plastics Juneau.

By 6 a.m. the first day, I had failed: the Empire arrived in its plastic sleeve. Then, when shopping: the milk carton spout, the bag for mushrooms, the labels on every piece of fruit, and to-go cup lids were all bits of plastic I'd hardly noticed before. And I need these items: I believe informed citizenship is a responsibility, I have no cows on my tiny city lot, and until I launch my urban farm will have no homegrown mushrooms or fruit in the fridge. And the to-go cups? It seems that they are annoyingly (and dangerously) structurally unsound without their plastic lids. So I made my tea at home, missing the pleasure of the local coffee shop.

My experience reflected Anji's main discovery: Plastics have entered so many areas of our society that it's now impossible for individuals to opt out. In fact, Anji is deeply frustrated by merchants requiring consumers to take all the conscious steps (like using cloth bags) while they proceed to eliminate plastic-free options (like paper bags and cardboard boxes). Plastic use will not be brought under control without policy-level changes. From the grocery store and product manufacturers to the city of Juneau and Washington, D.C., policy-makers must stop putting the burden entirely on consumers. They are dodging reality.

So Anji the educator and activist has started work. She's spreading the word through her blog and Facebook page. She also works with like-minded folk, such as Turning the Tides (see the Getting Green Done calendar in this section), to make changes.

And here I am, once again paying attention to Anji, and once again learning how much richer life is when I make conscious decisions. If you'd like to follow Anji too, take a look at the Re-List in this section and get started.

Re-List: A Clutter of Plastics

Juneau artist Sarah Asper-Smith (smackofjellyfish.com) has a great line of cards featuring the collective nouns for animals, like a parliament of owls and a knot of frogs. So watch out for a Clutter of Plastics, which will take over your home like a scourge of mosquitoes!

Research. Do a one-week plastics fast. Bring no new plastic into your home and throw nothing plastic away. You'll see plastic where you never noticed it before! Go to www.facebook.com/NoNewPlastic to read how other Juneauites have survived the fast.

Reduce. The most important strategy for all resource use. Know how a plastic item will end its life before you add it to yours. Read Jennifer Nu's article in this section for inspiration.

Reuse. Ask your grocery store to place used cardboard boxes at checkout. Collect all your clean, dry Empire bags and take them back to the Empire for reuse. Wash out those peanut butter and pickle jars and reuse them for storing leftovers.

Recycle. Recycle all #1 and #2 plastic at the Recycle Center. Go to www.juneau.org/pubworks/recycling.php for more information.

Repurpose. If using plastic bags, use each at least three times. Once for its original purpose, at least one more time when you'd normally grab a new bag, and finally for disposing of something extra messy.

Relearn. Remember a time when plastic storage options were few. Buy some "old fashioned" items like reusable bowl covers, cloth bags of all types (from grocery to sandwich), stainless steel, ceramic, and glass containers. Buy locally, new or used, before trying these sources: VermontCountryStore.com, Etsy.com (for reusable food bags), and LifeWithoutPlastic.com.

Repair. Household appliances are mostly plastic nowadays. When the microwave stops working, don't trash it, repair it. It will typically cost less than a new one. Look in the Yellow Pages for our local, helpful repair shops.

• Sarah Lewis has a couple of fabulous girlfriends, like Anji, who keep her connected to both reality and to her dreams. When Margaret Mead said that a small group of thoughtful people could change the world, she must have been talking about her girlfriends.



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