In the movie The Graduate, the most notable line was delivered by Dustin Hoffman’s sort-of girlfriend’s father, as advice for his future career: “It’s plastics, son,” or words to that effect. And indeed plastics have become ubiquitous. So much so that they are choking us on their refusal to go away like the rest of what we have around us: banana peels, autumn leaves, old newspapers, smooshed mosquitoes. What the heck? How have we trapped ourselves into being so reliant on a guest that won’t leave? Even when we know its byproducts are causing genetic and reproductive problems in our and many other species.
This is a problem of incredible magnitude. I am sure you’ve all seen photos of rivers and shorelines in Asia choked by plastic debris of all kinds. This disgusting result of plastic addiction isn’t restricted to so-called Third World nations, though. We can see the results along our own shorelines, along our roadways, in our parking lots and yards and parks and streams and even in Hammonton Lake.
I believe the coming statewide ban on single-use plastic bags will help. Beginning in May 2022, stores will no longer be able to provide these cheap pieces of garbage in the Garden State, and good riddance. Be smart and start now to train yourself to bring your reusable bags to Shop-Rite, Wal-Mart, Bagliani’s, Inferrara’s, and everywhere else you shop. It really isn’t that difficult. I’ve done it and thousands of other residents of Hammonton and the surrounding towns have done it.
As we approach May 2022, we will most likely have the usual chorus of ill-informed and mal-intended naysayers and fogies looking to the alleged golden past of libertine plastic pollution, painting the memory with sweet pastels and excuses. Reject those short-sighted charlatans: Americans are much more resourceful and thoughtful than those who only want to live in the past. Historically, we have always created new positive solutions, and now we are challenged to create those solutions that align more closely with real-world ecological principles, principles that will ensure a healthier planet, yes, but more importantly a healthier, wealthier and happier human race.
Here in Hammonton, we talk a lot about carrying on the traditions of our families: Sunday dinners (so we can argue “Is it sauce or gravy?”), backyard gardens and preserving our summer bounty, playing Fingers, making our own wine (and now beer and spirits), Christmas parades and holiday get-togethers, and the list goes on and on. One thing our forebears did well was to conserve their resources. Whether it was feeding scraps to the dog (or the chickens or the compost for the garden), or saving pieces of fabric to make a quilt or patch a ripped shirt or pair of work pants, or giving family haircuts in the backyard, our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents knew how to make the most of what they had.
One thing they brought with them from the Old World was the habit of bringing their own bags to the market. Stores didn’t provide such items for shoppers overseas or here in an earlier America, so you had to be prepared with your own bag. Although we have unfortunately gotten away from that meritorious sort of behavior, we have that opportunity — nay, the necessity — for a return to more prudent action. We can also honor the memory of our ancestors by getting back into the habit of always bringing our reusable bags with us to the local markets and elsewhere. Knowing we’re following in our predecessors’ footsteps should bring a smile to our faces as we shop, carrying our bags in our hands and our grandparents on our shoulders.
Let’s get ready, Hammonton. Do it for the planet. Do it for your children. Do it in memory of your ancestors. The past will smile upon you and the future will thank you.
For more information about this issue, go to www.njnoplastics.org.
Dan Bachalis is a former town councilman and has served on a number of town committees. He currently serves as the chairman of the Hammonton Environmental Commission and the Lake Water Quality Commission.