In honour of Earth Day I’m recycling a post I wrote two years ago after my Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip to Bolivia. My post begins with a futuristic look at our Earth.
The year: 3952
The place: A recently exposed outcrop of shoreline on the Ontario Sea. (Present day Ottawa.)
A team of archaeologists materialize on the flat stretch of loamy soil.
“Ancient maps indicate the location of a settlement here before the Water Age, when the Ontario Sea was still just a river,” says the team leader. At 80 years old, she is one of the youngest on the team.
“Well, let’s see what we find,” says her assistant as he pulls a small spade out of his pack. “Whatever it is, it will tell us what kind of people were here, and how they lived.” He kneels and penetrates the soil with the spade. It stops abruptly when it encounters springy resistance. “Found something already,” he says. He scrapes the earth away with gloved hands. He sighs.
“It’s another one from Giant Tiger he says as he pulls the tattered, bright yellow plastic bag out of the dig site.
In February, 2012 I was part of a Habitat for Humanity team that helped to build a house for a Bolivian family.
We needed to level and grade the site, and we did this using pick-axes and shovels. I and my fellow team members spent several days digging in the dirt. The lot we worked on had been vacant for some time and had become a catch-all for errant plastic bags that wafted to the site on Bolivian breezes. Time after time our shovels penetrated the top layer of soil only to bump into a plastic bag or a plastic bottle. Time after time we stooped and tossed these to the side. This picture is just one small part of the plastic we collected.
The reality about plastic hit home for me.
Plastic doesn’t go away for a long, long time. One carelessly tossed plastic bag becomes part of a mountain of plastic that won’t go away for a long, long time. Plastic is not attractive, historic, meaningful, artistic, or culturally significant. It is ugly, utilitarian, and, most importantly, not necessary. There are other, better options.
I will be more mindful about plastic use from now on, if for no other reason than, in 2000 years, I want my descendants to find beauty, not ugliness.