Microplastics and Macrograce

I come from a family of Greek women that collect seashells. On every beach trip, […]

Amanda McMillen / 8.29.18

I come from a family of Greek women that collect seashells. On every beach trip, we’d pack empty buckets and leave room in the car to lug our treasures home. I’ve since learned that stealing pounds of shells from beaches is not good practice for clams and snails (oops), but I still take at least a handful home every summer. My early memories at the coast are probably what led to my love of ecology and environmental science today. In high school, I asked for a National Geographic subscription for Christmas, and since then have flipped through every article I can on the health of our oceans.

In June, NatGeo published a cover story titled “Planet or Plastic?” about the crisis of pollution in our seas. A little background: as we’ve all heard, plastic trash entering our waterways is eaten by marine animals and birds, killing species and affecting the entire food chain. Recycling helps of course, but since China banned imports of plastic for recycling this year, much more than we think is being added to landfills. And recently, scientists discovered that plastics are being broken down by sun and water to “microplastics,” which more easily travel through our oceans and are quickly consumed by marine animals, affecting over 700 species, and completely disrupting water quality, killing coral reefs, and changing the entire environment of our oceans. We are literally drowning our planet in our own trash.

This is not new, but because of social media, it is a trendy cause to talk about this summer. And the suggestion NatGeo made of what we can do about it was simple—we all need to consume less plastic. If we refuse straws at restaurants, bring reusable grocery bags, and never drink from disposable plastic water bottles again, then we can make a difference together. The very small bit of optimist in me is hopeful that that’s true.

There’s just one problem: I am selfish. I don’t want to bring my own bamboo fork to a picnic, or refuse a straw, because then I’ll have to explain why and seem a self-righteous nerd. I don’t want to make my own dish soap, laundry detergent, and deodorant because someone else already did that for me and I can buy them at the store. I want things quickly and easily and I don’t want to clean out that peanut butter jar before putting it in the recycling bin because that’s so gross.

Enter the zero-waste movement: remember those bloggers who said that they fit all the trash they produce in a year in one mason jar? I’ve been doing some research into the zero-waste lifestyle, and found that people who blog about living this life basically don’t shop. They either buy things secondhand from Goodwill, sew their own clothes, or wear two outfits a week. One girl doesn’t wash her hair with shampoo—she just rinses it and massages it with her fingers. Sorry if you’re reading this and you also massage your head instead of washing it, but no. I just cannot.

And can we talk about how real retail therapy is? It’s so ingrained in me that when I think about minimalism and zero waste, what it looks like is filling up my Amazon cart with every bamboo fork, dish brush, and toothbrush I can get my hypocrite hands on. I was this close to purchasing a horsehair bamboo broom last week that cost $100. A broom. Thank God my husband came in just as I was about to “complete purchase,” causing me to quickly switch to another Internet tab. I heard the Holy Spirit whisper, “If you’re being sneaky about buying the broom, maybe don’t buy the broom.” (I still might buy the broom.)

America is full of over-consumers, of whom I am the worst. I’m creating waste trying to get to zero waste. I’m taking a good thing and making it my newest trend to justify myself and who I am as a person. The reality, of course, is that nothing I do can make me a better person. I am selfish and I always will be. “Zero-waste” is an impossible, beautiful standard; an idea of how we should be (and once were before single-use plastic!), but an impossibility now. It is a law that we can’t fulfill.

There’s nothing “micro” about our culture’s overconsumption, self-justification, and judgmental trendy habits. But—thank God—there’s also nothing micro about God’s grace or his ability to love our world through his selfish consumer-children. God met us on this planet 2,000 years ago, knowing we would trash the place, and still lovingly died for our redemption. He loves us filthy people, and that makes me rest a little easier, mug of package-free tea in hand.