My River of Plastic

At the supermarket, I said nothing as the old guy bagging my groceries stuffed a gallon bucket of ice cream into a plastic bag and dropped it into my cart.

I am not sure what purpose the bag served.

My ice cream was already packaged in a plastic pail.  One that came with its own handle. It certainly did not need a bag – but then who am I to question the way a guy does his job?

Besides, we have a million uses for plastic bags.

They are how I transport cat litter from the box to the trash can. They line the waste baskets in our bedroom and bathroom.  They accompany my wife when she digs ditch lilies to protect the roots. We use them for lunch bags, shoe bags and laundry bags.

The same also goes for plastic yogurt containers. We store left-overs and freeze soup in them. I use them at my workbench to hold nuts and bolts, along with odds and ends.

In short, we reuse much of the plastic that clutters our lives.

But I get it.

The world is awash in plastic.

I read somewhere that tiny Henderson Island, a dot of land in the eastern South Pacific, has the highest density of plastic debris recorded anywhere in the world.

But I doubt that.

The highest density of plastic debris found anywhere lies behind the door of our hall closet. It is where we put things we want to ignore until we can no longer ignore them.

Like plastic bags and yogurt containers – that pile up and pile up.

In that sense, our house has become a delta into which a river of plastic flows.

But all of this is part of a larger problem.

We love this river of plastic because we have found uses, reuses and re-purposes for it – but the tsunami keeps on coming – faster and faster, overwhelming our ability to get a handle on it.

It is almost as if affluence has become too much of a good thing.

So after I got home, I put away the groceries and stuffed all the plastic bags into a single bag and opened the hall door just a crack, only wide enough to quickly stuff the bags into storage and slam the door before everything that was being ignored made an issue of itself.

That is when my wife observed….

“You bought ice-cream.”

“I did.”

“I thought we were trying to diet.”

“We are,” I assured her, “but I needed the pail.”

Author: Almost Iowa

53 thoughts on “My River of Plastic”

  1. Greg, I have to tell you (first of all, this is a great post) but all I keep thinking about, what’s the deal with

    “The Stairs That Lead Nowhere.” – it took my focus away from the closet (plastic) monster. Quick…close the door man!

    All I kept thinking was, I missed the post on the stairs. That requires a post in itself (if doesn’t exist) or point me to that post, please.

    Back to the plastic: here in CA, they have banned the “soft” plastic from markets. We have to now “buy” the thick plastic for 10 cents, or a more expensive recycled bag. I didn’t realize how much we did repurpose those! bathroom trash cans. Doggie poop bags. wrapping up cleaning product or bug spray when moving to keep it “away” from other products. I just came across another bag that had more of these thin plastics and I strangely, did a happy dance.

  2. We reuse our plastic too, but it still piles up. Portland, OR outlawed plastic bags and people do adjust, though I have no idea what they use for the kitty litter. 😀

  3. My wife buys cat litter by the 5 gallon pail because “we need the pail.” Now if you want to talk about something reproducing on it’s own….

    1. I know….I know… I have a stack of them in my shed. They are wonderful for re-purpose but a devil to get rid of. You have to chop them up for disposal or recycling.

  4. Lol! Good excuse to feast on ice cream. My husband always brings things in plastic bags when he goes shopping. I tend to do the right thing, I take my own fabric bags, but sometimes I forget. How did we survive without plastic 60 years ago or thereabouts?

    1. Australia was the first place I saw a “green bag” for shopping. We bought one and brought it home. The next time I went shopping, I forgot to bring it….and every subsequent time after that. 😦

  5. Plastic grocery bags have been outlawed here, but yet there still seems to be plenty of plastic bags around for trash liners, extra wrapping for freezer items, etc. I think they reproduce at night.

  6. The food bank near me takes all the plastic bags they can get to pack supplies for donees. Saves them from having to buy some kind of bags.

  7. I’ve never understood how they decide to bag groceries, either. Some stuff, light and small, gets it’s very own bag. But if I’m buying ten cans of dog food, then those are all stuffed in the same bag, which breaks as I’m trying to load it into my car. I’m thinking of offering free seminars in bagging to the local grocery stores, but I somehow doubt they’ll take me up on it.
    And just a thought: when’s the last time you’ve been up on your roof, to check out the spot where that staircase ends? It’s just possible that some of that stuff is starting to poke through your shingles……

    1. Of course, the answer is to bag our own groceries – but that would put some people, like the old guy, out of a job.

      I keep a close eye on my roof and yes, there are areas that are beginning to bulge – but for reasons far more dark and mysterious than The Stairs That Lead Nowhere.

  8. Ah, the valuable empty ice cream bucket ranks right up there with plastic bags. You could always take cloth bags to the grocery store. Or tell the bagger you don’t need a plastic bag. I am really bugged by the packaging of multiple boxes of tissue, for example, in clear plastic. We are being forced to buy more and more with more waste added to the environment.

    1. We tried cloth bags – but since I do most of the shopping, the shopper keeps forgetting to take the bags, then the shopper keeps forgetting that he has cloth bags and keeps buying more of them until the pile of cloth bags exceeds the pile of plastic ones…. 😦

  9. Ice cream IS a diet. It really is amazing that they bag everything. I can’t keep up with the reuse of the bags and have to recycle a crapload every week. Crazy.

  10. Hahaha too funny !!! Great ending. Yes we are a plastic world and much if it lands up in the ocean sadly. The key is to do what you both do, recycle and reuse!


    1. Around here, much of it winds up in the ditches and it takes weeks for the Scouts and Church groups to clean them out in the spring.

  11. I’ve heard the one about the kingdom that was lost for want of a nail, but this is the first time I’ve heard that the diet was ditched for want of a pail.
    Well played

  12. Ha! This was great. I buy those little (one-serve size) pint containers of Talenti ice cream because I like that they have great screw tops that I reuse for soups and sauce. But, nah! I buy them strictly for the ice cream.

  13. Says she who is failing at shedding pounds: wait! there’s a container of ice cream big enough to merit a handle? Where?!

    When I lived back in urban Southern Ontario, every other Tuesday, I’d take an early morning stroll through the neighbourhood to pick up mineral buckets and specimen trays. This was, of course, recycle day – and there I’d be, rummaging through the blue boxes for the kitty litter buckets (so sturdy! with handles! stackable!) and egg cartons.

    1. Around here, we have gallon pails of ice cream with plastic handles, because I like you I won’t tell you where you can get them. 🙂

      Those cat litter pails are the best.

  14. I haven’t bought a commercial garbage bag in forever…I always use the plastic grocery bags. The best part about this is it trained me to take out the trash regularly, so it doesn’t make the kitchen smell.

    I saved a bunch of my hard-plastic gum containers…was planning on using them for jump-ring storage and easy transport. The SO went through and started cleaning – guess what got tossed into the recycling bin?


    Our definitions of recycling vary quite a bit. I believe that the word means “Use the damn thing as long as it’s not green & fuzzy,” and he thinks it means take all that stuff out to the dumpster in the back.

  15. I live in a state where they banned plastic grocery bags… well at least the free ones. The end result is that people now just pay for their plastic grocery bags as opposed to getting them for free. The plastic is thicker too. So I don’t know how much good it did. I feel like these stores are just profiting off the green movement, so in rebellion, I like to walk out of stores hugging all my purchases (b/c I always forget to bring bags.)

  16. If you took my yogurt cups away from me, I’d have to buy plastic cups to put my varnish in, and if you took away my plastic grocery bags, I’d have no trash bags for work and car, no kitty litter bags, and so on and so forth. Likewise: my Talenti gelato containers. Those babies are perfect for screws, nails, etc., because they’re clear, and they’re great for freezing summer produce, too.

    I do agree that the bags are a problem when they blow around, and even worse are the plastic rings that six-packs of soda or water come in. If everyone could bring themselves to cut those rings before tossing them, we’d have fewer birds hurt.

    Now I have to go back to work with ice cream on my mind.

  17. Ah, the twist in the tale! My river of plastic lives in a drawer in the kitchen until the drawer won’t close. Then it lives in a plastic bag in the garage until the plastic bag splits. But the gods of plastic have decreed, whenever I clear out my river of plastic bags, one week later precisely I will realize I really need more. (I might need more ice cream too!)

  18. After the laughter subsided, I settled on one thing that I learned. The island? No, The ways to reuse…? No. We could be buying larger containers of ice cream. Thanks!

  19. I wonder at our local large city’s desire to outlaw plastic grocery bags. I always re-use mine, and carry a few of the sturdy reusable bags in my car. I don’t like the idea that if this passes, I’d have to budget buying new bags to serve the function my second-use bags currently serve.
    In some ways, it seems like a form of solving the budget problem by cost-shifting.

    1. I don’t know why grocery bags became such a symbol – and that is what they are, primarily a symbol. The bulkiest items for landfills and incinerators are food waste and paper….. and oddly, clothes. Even though we recycle clothes to the Salvation Army and Goodwill – and some are used for paper-making, but majority end up in the waste stream.

  20. I tried to cut back by using our own bags, but I use plastic ones for cat litter and bin liners as well. When we run low, I stop bringing in my own bags to the store, so I can get a few more. We have a garage lined with plastic peanut butter jars filled with every kind of screw and nail under the sun. It really is quite startling when you see how much plastic we all use every day. I read about that island. It’s a little horrifying, but a tough habit to break.

    1. I heard that Minneapolis tried to ban the bag but the legislature outlawed outlawing them. Gosh, I wish they would both spend as much time worrying about the underfunded PERA pension system as they do grocery bags.

      I am not sure what the best solution is. Once the bags go into the trash, they are incinerated in most counties and in that they are relatively harmless, it is when they blow into the ditches and woods, and out to sea that they become a real problem. I would like to see bio-degradable plastic used for such one-use things.

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