The button on my phone that snoozes the alarm.
The button again. And again.
The switch on a rotary fan. A window pane. Light switches, hangers, a plasticized book cover I brush against when reaching for a shirt. A plasticized business card that flutters out from the pocket.
Here’s everything I touched that was made of plastic one lazy August morning:
Shower curtain, no-slip mat, shampoo bottle then a second one when I find the first one’s cashed. Deodorant stick, comb. Shave brush handle, razor, squeeze bottle of aftershave. Toothbrush, both mine and the one I brush up against in my reach. Toothpaste tube and the toothpaste inside. Mouthwash bottle.
It’s not an original idea, charting all the plastic one person touches in a normal routine. I ripped it off from Susan Freinkel’s 2011 book “Plastic: A Toxic Love Story,” which I’m currently reading.
I ripped off the idea and applied it just to my morning, not the whole day like Freinkel did. I wrote everything down with a plastic pen and am now typing it with fingers on a plastic keyboard, wrists leaning on a plastic desk, sitting in a plastic-skeletoned swivel chair over a big plastic mat of the type meant so the plastic wheels of my plastic chair don’t leave ruts in the synthetic fibers of the carpeting.
That’s how I’m writing this. How are you reading this?
Toilet seat cover, lid, handle, soap dispenser and a brush against the polyvinyl chloride bathroom door as I turn the metal knob.
I’m not anti-plastic. That would be as stupid, like hating chrome because it sometimes goes in assault rifles. Plastics are magical materials necessary for the way we live our modern life.
But that magic makes it dangerous. We create materials that last for centuries and put them to service in uses that last for minutes. The chemicals for the plastic wrap around a sandwich spent millennia bubbling in the earth and will spend millennia swimming through the seas or clogging up the landfills.
Its useful lifespan was the time it took for the sandwich to get from the store to your mouth.
The six buttons I do up on my shirt and one on my fly. My work lanyard, my Ventra pass and the clear cover I keep it in. A few cords I step on as I cross the room. Keychain, sunglass, every light switch on then off again as I move from room to room. A commemorative bag from a hike at Starved Rock that I pull a Tupperware lunch container and my card-filled wallet from.
Is the PVP in my toothpaste longer-lasting than the PVC in my doors? How eternal is the “poly” of my cotton-poly blend shirt? Are the lifespans of my buttons measured in decades, centuries or more?
What’s the endgame of this experiment in touching other than paranoia and a bit of unquenchable guilt?
The bits and baubles of my janky old tennis shoes.
The endgame is knowledge.
The lid on a box of Trader Joe peaches.
If I could save the world, I would have by now. I would have made it so I could put on pants without wondering what sea gyre the chemicals will seep into. I’d be able to pick up a cell phone or touch a computer without thinking about the blood diamond warlords now funded by the tantalum that goes into the capacitors.
I would stop shootings, racism, overfishing, car exhaust and, yes, minutes-long uses of immortal materials.
The sun might break my bags and candy wrappers into smaller bits, but the long-chain polymers that make up my disposable life will last longer than music.
The polyester of my socks, shorts and gyre-bound pants.
So get thinking, folks, because I’m as cashed as the shampoo bottle in my recycling bin. The only idea I’ve got is to rip off Susan Freinkel’s gimmick to get smarter people on the case.
We discovered immortality, but gave it to hot sauce packets and the clear lining around a disposable fork.