Stop me from getting to San Francisco’s ocean on International Coastal Cleanup Day when I now host an online journal on beach and trail cleanup? Of course not but it sure seemed like life was trying to this morning.
Consciousness filtered in as my alarm clock went off, while mysterious aches and pains reminded me that I am 100% human in a physical body. Slowly, I rolled out of bed and got ready for the day, but then I started worrying that I would not find parking at the beach easily. Then I hustled to try and get to the beach a little earlier than planned, as I’m quite aware that a good chunk of the San Franciscan population gravitates to the ocean when the conditions are warm and sunny. I put my half-eaten oatmeal in a container, threw my backpack over my shoulder and out the door I went to discover a bright orange “Engine” light glowing in my dashboard [swear words].
You know how Murphy of Murphy’s Law works right? I could drive to the beach with a warning light and my car die, or go to the mechanic. I went to the mechanic. After 45 minutes of waiting for the engine testing to be complete, the financial assessment of $350 comes back (typical), and a two-hour wait time. Upside, is that I still have a little bit of financial credit to dip into, and I could have sworn that the L Taraval Muni Train goes directly to the SF Zoo and Sloat Avenue where Surfrider Foundation is hosting the beach cleanup. On the train I go with about 40 minutes left of the cleanup session as it ends at noon. The Surfrider crew greets me, I grab a bright orange bucket, a glove and into the dunes I go.
This area had been pretty cleaned up by the time I got there but it was evident that this cleanup session’s theme is STYROFOAM. The previous volunteer beach cleaners obviously got the big chunky stuff and I followed up with my eye for detail and found small broken chunks of styrofoam about the size of silver dollars scattered here and there, wedged into the reeds of the dunes. Sorry, I bypassed the toilet paper with the accompanying flies – maybe another day I could deal with that but not today. It was styrofoam day.
Not only was the 1940s the decade of much WWII destruction and post-war consumerism but also the decade that gave birth to way too many chemicals, food items and products that need not be around anymore. Adding to my sh!t list that includes refined sugar – a product that I believe is killing people worldwide – I also add styrofoam. I am sure the “don’t need anymore” list is quite long if I did a little research, but I’ll just stick to sugar and styrofoam for now… and Wonder bread.
The history goes that an American “rediscovered” the invention of polystyrene (market name is styrofoam), to take bragging rights away from Carl Georg Munters of Sweden. Anyway, American chemist, Ray McIntire of Dow’s Chemical Physics Lab gets the the “rediscovery” badge of honor in 1941. Should Carl and Ray be that proud now? Bragging rights, lining pockets and making babies for the post-war boom, seemed to be the focus of the 1940s and 50s. I know, I’m brutal but it seems like back then it was just a flurry of who got to invent what first with not much thought to the consequences of their products.
Now we, and the decedents of Carl and Ray, are and will be paying a hefty price for that rather evil invention. Why is it evil you might ask? Styrofoam products are typically not recycled or reused, it takes longer than 500 years to decay (some say it never does), when it lands in the ocean and landfill sites, it is ingested by wildlife, and inevitably the particulates are ingested by humans. Don’t be around styrofoam on fire – it is a cancer-causing carcinogen. Toxins from polystyrene foam leached into the ecosystem over time, is a whole other story. It is just bad news all-around. Click here for a Polystyrene Fact Sheet by Save The Bay.
We still have a very long road ahead of us as styrofoam products are still heavily produced but as far as food containers, they are being banned city by city all over the world. My city of San Francisco banned polystyrene in 2007, requiring all takeout food packaging be recyclable or compostable and New York City joined the campaign this year.
While we are making progress, stop complaining…
I have heard people complain how their biodegradable forks break while eating and that their compostable bags rip during usage. Yes, it happens, but I would rather that happen than add to our epic garbage pollution problem. I am sure that the technology behind biodegradable products is being improved upon so really, just hang tight! Plus, there is nothing stopping us from bringing our own set of forks and knives to picnics, and how hard is it to deal with a torn compost bag?
Styrofoam products will continue to stay on the market as long as individuals, businesses and corporations continue to purchase it. So, stop buying it. Creativity is powerful… there are alternatives for absolutely everything. As soon as humanity starts supporting the welfare of other living beings and the future of the planet before profits, will things start to change.
I’ll close with this rather humorous video about a guy who is a self-admitted lover of styrofoam and once banned in New York (already has), will move on to his love for plastic. And also, your feedback, thoughts, criticisms and/or support is wholeheartedly encouraged in the comments section down there. It’s nice to know I’m not just talking to myself.