A Day Without Plastic
Or what happens when you try
By Alex Musicant; illustration by Emma Kerr
A great, great man once said, “if you have never lived a day without plastic, you have never, ever lived.” That man probably did not know that there is plastic coating on most metal, and thus did not know that to truly abstain from the use of plastic would mean never leaving your bed—or more accurately, the floor of your room. I tried my best to live by these words, and despite counting all the times I could’ve really used plastic, I did so with aplomb.
What follows then, is a story of someone trying his absolute best not to use anything plastic for one whole day.
I wake up with a headache, wearing the clothes I wore to pick up a friend from Denver the night before. My mouth tastes like mouths taste the morning after eating a chewy bar, drinking half a bottle of lemonade and forgetting to brush your teeth. 1) I realize that my toothbrush, the bottle of toothpaste and my deodorant are plastic. This is not the first day I’ve spent at CC knowing that my personal hygiene leaves something to be desired, but it is perhaps the first time I’ve neglected it entirely. The first mantra of the day is born: Just try and accept it.
2) All of the chairs I see are either mostly or partially plastic. I look around the hallway to see if there are any metal chairs (before realizing the metal would likely be coated in plastic). 3) My backpack, phone and the keys on my keyboard are all plastic. All that I’ve brought to class is a book and my skateboard. Class lasts for three hours (which today means three hours of my butt against nothing but the hard surface of the floor). Normally, frequent tangents into the abyss of the Internet allow me to refuel, but today I don’t have that.
What are things made of? Who made them? It becomes hard not to think about history and all that human beings have accomplished. I’ve heard famous people say they were standing on the shoulders of giants. As I look around the room, I think that maybe we are all sitting on that giant’s polymer chair.
Today I have to be present. The very moment I realize this, I have a simultaneous revelation that I might be addicted to my phone. Will I suffocate if I don’t check Snapchat? I can’t conclusively say no. Breathe.
My skateboard is made out of five different layers of wood. My professor is talking, but I’ve never looked at my skateboard in such depth before. Wait, there are actually six layers of wood. Someone took six sheets of wood and bent them together, drilled on trucks which someone else somehow managed to design, screwed on wheels and did a million other things that I can’t possibly imagine because I have no idea how to make a skateboard. The power of cooperation. Everything I touch, every experience I’ve ever had has been because of steps someone else took.
4) My bladder is full. I can’t use my Gold Card to get into my room. For those unfamiliar with the Asian Language House, there is a beautiful garden outside. It’s incredible if you are ever in need of a peaceful space. It’s also in full view of the lounge area, but no one is in the lounge area right now. I’ve definitely peed in more public places.
Just as I decide to go for it, I see someone entering the Italian House. As I sprint through the door to pee in their toilet, I can’t help thinking that my urinating isn’t really mine alone. It’s mine and the Italian House residents’. It’s ours, our pee. The power of cooperation. It’s the maker of this toilet’s, which, crap, is plastic. My first true blunder.
I ride my skateboard to Chipotle because I have to pay for lunch in cash anyway. I give a homeless guy five dollars because he loves my skateboard. The power of cooperation.
1:00 p.m.–5:00 p.m.
5) The hours I usually spend running in circles on social media are instead used to sit in my room and do nothing. I would be doing work, but something about this plastic fast has my mind in overdrive. I realize that the tapestry on the ceiling of my dorm room moves in circles if you stare at it for long enough and that I live in a world defined by other people’s accomplishments and labor. There is no escape. Almost everything in my life is manufactured.
6:00 p.m.–7:00 p.m.
I take a walk. Have rows of trees always been this fun to look at? My blood is flowing through my body (my blood never does this). I can breathe (I seldom breathe). I don’t miss my phone. I don’t miss my computer. I don’t even miss being able to get into my house when I have to pee. Eating the rest of my Chipotle from lunch under a tree, I bask in the high of plasticlessness.
Who would possibly know if I played one game of Battlefront? I see my roommate cooking Cup of Noodles and remember that my roommate has the funniest way of cooking Cup of Noodles. He boils the water, pours the boiled water onto the noodles, then carefully pours out all of the water, seasoning and vegetables and eats the plain noodles. Then:
“You smell pretty bad.”
“I get it. Very funny, I can’t use deodorant.”
“Why are you just watching me cook?”
“You’re not really cooking.”
“I mean, making Cup of Noodles isn’t really cooking.”
“Yeah, but why are you just standing there watching me?”
“I can’t use plastic all day, remember?”
6) Pissed off. Why do pistachios have to be sold in plastic? I can’t find anyone who has pistachios in anything else and I’ve never needed anything more than I need pistachios right now. I would really just like some pistachios. It’s been a long day.
9:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.
What are things made out of? Not just my phone. What is the world made of? I realize that I have opened a bag of pistachios and I think about the things that have been bugging me all day. Like about using all these things and having no idea who made them or where they came from. Or about how I feel more like a part of the world around me right now, in my plastic fast, than I have all week. I know it might not sound like it, but I think I was happier today than I’ve been in a long time. Something about not sinking into an electronic hole.
As I get ready for bed, I check my phone. I tell myself I can’t wait, but there is nothing important. Not shocking. I feel a little sad.