Saturday, April 28, 2012

Breathing plastic

LET me count the ways I love plastic.

First, I can’t seem to eat out without using plastic.

In my walking route is a hole in the wall whose cauldrons draw a long line as early as 7 a.m.

The buyers—office workers, men bearing tools, mothers dandling babies— walk away with their breakfast or lunch packed securely in plastic bags that must hold other plastic bags.

I confirmed how many plastic bags are needed for a take-away meal when I bought lunch one day at our canteen.

My P51 lunch consisted of: one cup of rice (one small plastic bag), one serving of mongo soup (one small plastic bag), one piece of “tinowa (stewed fish)” (one plastic bag), “tinowa” soup (one plastic bag), and one medium-sized banana.

The soup was placed in a separate bag since the protruding bones of the “mamsa” fish might puncture the plastic bag.

That’s my theory. It could also be that each item of food is placed in a plastic bag so that the cashier automatically counts the number of plastic bags to give a quick total of the amount due.

Or again, food vendors may just love plastic the way I do.

My entire P51 lunch went into one large plastic tote.

If I ate in the canteen and used a tray and utensils, I could have saved five plastic bags from choking the ecology in five non-biodegradable ways.

Yet I find it more conducive to eat in the office because of the—sigh—air-conditioner. (When our building was constructed, the design didn’t include enough windows. Several large windows would have solved the challenge of getting students and teachers to focus on work without resorting to electricity. Windows would have taken advantage of the thick, spreading canopies of the nearby trees. Unfortunately, enough windows never entered the picture, er, the design of our building, constructed long before the trend of green architecture.)

Returning to my plastic chase, I think Filipinos rarely break for lunch at exactly noon because that’s too late to find food or too crowded to eat in peace. Hence, workers line up before time-in or at 11 a.m. to get first pick of the day’s menu. This “take-in” food they bring to work.

Sustaining this food economy is, naturally, plastic bags.

If we reuse plastic, it would alleviate our rising pile of trash. That’s theoretically speaking.

After I took my P51 lunch out of five plastic bags and transferred these to plates and bowls, I had to decide the fate of five plastic bags: discard or reuse?

That’s not entirely honest: I didn’t really ruminate over my choices. After I finished eating, I placed the bones and torn plastic bags in the plastic tote, knotted the tote to keep cats from scattering the bones under our conference table, and walked away—naturally.

Aside from being sturdy and cheap, plastic bags are valuable because they don’t invite soul-searching.

We shed plastic as if this is our natural pelt.

Plastic bags of all sizes and shapes molded to fit our humanity: from noodle seasoning and cigarette sticks bought “tinggi”-style from a street vendor to the commodities bearing the brands and logos charting our ambitions.

Unwilling to count plastic just to fall sleep, I usually bring whatever remains from last night’s dinner to this morning’s breakfast as my lunch at work.
I pack these food leftovers in plastic containers that have been washed so many times, and put this in a plastic tote that has been washed ad infinitum, I feel my guilt as an eco terrorist is washed, too, if not to a clean slate of eco-purity, at least to the scratched and blurred opacity of plastic bags, recycled after several washing.

Except for two things, er, plastic bags that still end up with my green lunch: one small plastic bag for fork and spoon and another medium plastic bag to contain a possible spillage from the plastic food containers and protect my books and other belongings.

The mystery lies not in sneaky plastic bags; it is in my pretension that I can actually get away from breathing plastic.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s April 29, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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