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.
The photo of plastic bags above comes from this website.