Share this article

print logo

Gladys Gifford: Modern conveniences often come at a price

Now that all of the leaves have fallen from the tree across the street, I can see it. It’s a straggly plastic shopping bag. That bag has been dangling high up in the tree for a year or more. It’s an ugly blemish on the neighborhood, and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. That plastic will be there until the wind and weather shred it to tatters – and even then the bits and pieces will still drift on the eddies of dust and raindrops, never to totally disappear.

I didn’t put that plastic bag in that tree, but I share in the culture that turned it loose. Yes, I admit: I am complicit in plastic.

There’s a lot of plastic in my life: in my kitchen, my clothes, my food, my house, my neighborhood. This ubiquitous stuff has crept into every corner of my life. So I have to ask: Am I better off?

In the kitchen, I cover leftovers with plastic wrap to store in the fridge. I use plastic containers with tight-fitting lids to store foods in the kitchen. I pour dry cereal for my breakfast from plastic-coated liners in the cereal boxes. I pour frozen veggies out of a plastic bag to heat up for dinner. My groceries often come home in plastic bags. The farmers’ market vendors hand over produce in plastic bags. Even when I prepare that produce for freezing, I use freezer paper coated with plastic.

I use plastic eating utensils at the nearby deli takeout. The dry-cleaning comes home encased in plastic. Occasionally I wear polyester pants, as well as fleece jackets made from polyester. I own a jacket made from fibers manufactured from recycled pop bottles.

Once a week, we put a plastic bag of our trash into the large heavy plastic garbage bin for pickup by the garbage collectors.

It wasn’t always so. I remember a different culture, growing up on a dairy farm with two sisters and a brother.

We had no plastic wrap in the kitchen, so how did we deal with leftovers? We put small quantities in dishes covered with a plate or aluminum foil in the refrigerator. All glass jars with screw-on tops were saved, and we used them for larger quantities of leftovers. Mostly, we simply ate everything that Mother prepared.

Food processing on the farm included produce from a large garden and a heifer raised for beef. We invested in a large freezer and filled it every year with packages wrapped in freezer paper that was waxed on one side. We also froze liquid items in paper boxes coated with wax.

Our clothing contained no synthetic fibers. We dutifully ironed and starched our cotton clothes and wore wool in cold weather. We couldn’t afford silk or linen. The men wore heavy cotton overalls for dirty work. We were amazed and delighted when jeans were designed for women.

Synthetic fibers arrived in the early 1950s. This innovation offered great relief from the drudgery of ironing and starching to get rid of wrinkles. Now we simply washed and dried and then hung up the clothes – no fuss, no muss with ironing boards and drippy starch!

Yes, I am embarrassed by the beige plastic bag snagged high in the tree across the street, whenever I look out my dining room window. It reminds me that the plastic in my life has brought conveniences and improvements that I appreciate.

It also tells me that most plastic lasts forever, so I am careful about its use and disposal.