Sunday, May 08, 2016

“African flowers”

Almost a decade ago, I visited Ghana where my daughter was working in an internship.  Everywhere we went the Ghanaians we encountered were welcoming enthusiastic people. They constantly asked—so, do you like Ghana? Well, yes.

I was struck with a booming trade economy…street side. As we rode in the unusual taxis in Accra, we saw street side markets. We witnessed sellers going door to door…except that the doors were the car doors. Everything imaginable thing being sold by vendors walking up and down the median strip in highways. And to give the customer whatever purchase, a plastic bag is produced.

Ah, the ubiquity of plastic bags.  Hence, the title—African flowers. When the plastic bags drift away, having been carelessly cast aside, they float about. And then they catch in the branches of trees—there they stay and earn the name of “African flowers.”

Clearly, while the invention of plastic has produced many helpful products, plastic has also become a curse. And it is threatening the future of our planet…as well as threatening the present of our planet.

A recent story caught my eye, and left me gob-smacked. Sperm whales have been washing up on beaches in the North Sea. The article that appeared in National Geographic  revealed the cause of their deaths of some of these animals. “After a necropsy of the whales in Germany, researchers found that four of the giant marine animals had large amounts of plastic waste in their stomachs.   As the story notes, among those items were plastic fishing nets, plastic parts of auto engines, bits of broken plastic items.

So, this is the “fouling the nest” issue that makes me crazy. PLASTIC.

So, what do I do? Eschewing plastic altogether is not possible, and maybe not desirable.  Of course, like many people we use reusable bags for grocery shopping.

Another way to do something is recycle. My husband and I have been recycling plastics, glass bottles, cans AND newspapers since 1970! We began recycling before our first child, our son, was born—and, yes, we began with an eye to the future this child might inherit. In those days, recycling meant collecting the items and once a month trudging them to some nearby location where volunteers from civic-minded organizations collected all the items.

Eventually local government based programs became the norm, which also meant everyone had to do what we had been doing for years. Only difference now was that the recycle truck came through the neighborhood to pick things up.

And there’s one other way I try to do a small bit to help. I pick up trash in most public spaces. On my daily walks with the dog through our nearby cemetery, occasionally I spot discarded bottles, cans and other trash. I usually pick up an item or two and dispose them in the big trash bins provided. Why can’t everyone do that?

I have even been known to pick up trash in women’s bathrooms in public spaces. I work on a corollary assumption to the “broken window” theory. I reason that if people see trash on the floor they are more likely to drop trash. So, I pick up the paper towels and discarded unused toilet paper. Then, of course, I wash my hands.

Just today, I spotted a plastic bag floating along, so I picked it up, tucked it in my pocket and brought it home to our plastic bag collection for recycling. As I did that small task, I thought—one less African flower.

Want to know more about plastic bags and what some countries are going? Check out this website: .
The photo of plastic bags above comes from this website.


Ginger said...

I, too, have been recycling for a long time. Hadn't heard the term "African flowers," though. I like that. I first learned the "picking up" technique from a school administrator I admired. I noticed as we crossed campus together that he was picking up trash along the way. I have since realized that a leader who picks up trash is saying something significant about the organization they lead. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

Jayne said...

I've seen the photos too... of all the plastic and such items inside animals who have perished, and it's very unsettling indeed. It would be such a small thing for grocery stores and other stores to go back to paper bags, or to give an incentive to use reusable cloth bags, and could make such a big impact.

Ginnie said...

Another wonderful blog entry. Have you ever heard of the ALDI stores? We have one in our area. There are no baggers and no paper or plastic bags. It is a large store selling everything that you could find in a large grocery store except at lower prices. You just roll your cart around and fill it with what you want. At the checkout you put the stuff up for the checkout girl and she charges and puts it all in a cart that you take to your car. It's the responsibility of the buyer to have boxes or whatever in their car to hold the produce.
It's a far cry from Walmart with that thing that rotates and holds millions of plastic bags ... not even a choice for a paper bag !!

LauraHinNJ said...

Plastic makes me nuts, too. Everything's sealed tight in so much plastic; why do we need so much packaging?

Anvilcloud said...

We have reached the point where we put out more recycling than trash. Communities are pretty recycling conscious around here.

troutbirder said...

Well said! We've recycled for decades now & Minnesota has volunteer ditch picker uppers stretch by stretch...

Ruth said...

You should see the plastic waste generated by a hospital! We used to have glass bottles, autoclaved bedpans and other bedside accessories etc, etc. Now everything is throw away plastic and it is not recycled. And the styrofoam drinking cups for patients...don't get me started. We have an excellent recycling program in our city but I am sure recycling is not available in most of the world.

altar ego said...

Ach, what Ruth said! I used to sew blood pressure cuffs for my dad (he was a doctor) in various fabrics of bright or distinctive patterns. They were always a conversation piece with his patients, and I was tickled to make them for him. Now even the blood pressure cuffs are disposable! Makes me cringe whenever I'm at a hospital using them. Plastic is just one example of great ideas taken to excess. I'm glad you posted about this--I think!