Packaging bothers me because it feels like we don’t have a choice. And when we do try to make the decision to buy responsibly, the system goes against us. It’s incredibly frustrating. I consider myself someone who tries to first and foremost reduce the trash that comes into my home. I use a laundry basket and cloth bags instead of grocery bags. I bring my own reusable produce bags (when I remember) to the grocery store. If a purchase is unavoidable, such as buying a brick of cheese (don’t get me started on trying to think of ways to get a kilogram of cheese from a deli, which they then wrap up in plastic or paper anyway. What am I supposed to do? Get cheese at a farm? Every time I run out?) then I have to suck it up and accept that it comes in a plastic wrapper. And I get it, plastic keeps it air tight, sealed, fresh, ready for the consumer.
So my family consumes the cheese. That’s fine. What do I do with the wrapper? I bought it, it is mine. It is now my responsibility. I could just put it in the trash, essentially making it someone else’s problem. Where does it go from there? Into a landfill that I am probably paying tax dollars to collect, fill and sustain. That wrapper will never see the light of day and it will add to a seemingly never-ending heap of non-biodegradable matter that just accumulates like a weight in the back of my mind, pressing guilt on me every time I think of buying something else. It never goes anywhere.
Okay so maybe the plastic is recyclable? I’ve been saving up all of the wrappers that seem washable and plastic, and I bring them to a local grocery store that says they recycle plastic bags. A cheese wrapper is essentially plastic, and I guess it’s sort of a bag, right? I don’t even know. What else am I supposed to do with it? Throwing it out seems stupid if there are facilities designed to take this stuff back. And why not? What I don’t understand is how a food manufacturer, or specifically a packaging center, could purchase packing material something that they know will end up in a landfill. But I do the same thing; I paint with paints that come in tubes that I have throw out. I make stickers with my art on them with wrappers and backings that as far as I know are not recyclable and I do not know what to do with them.
Recycling the plastic at the Superstore seems to be my chosen option – but the fact is that I don’t actually know if it’s recyclable. What if I’m rinsing off all of these labels and storing them in a bag and making special trips to the plastic return area just to have them look at my plastic, deem it unsatisfactory, and toss it into the landfill anyway? What about all the time I spent trying to be ‘good’, is now wasted and I could have just thrown it out in the first place?
I have a growing sense of extreme frustration – that I have no time to actually properly source all of my food items to avoid packaging and waste. And believe me, I’ve tried! I have tried exclusively buying all base ingredients at Bulk Barn, which by the way, is NOT cheaper though I felt it should be if they are in any way trying to promote an eco-friendly lifestyle. I tried making granola bars by hand to avoid buying the Quaker bars (which the only ones available that are nut free all are loaded with chocolate and sugar and wrapped in plastic) but although they are delicious, they are time consuming and I am limited to a few ingredients due to allergies in classrooms these days. But with two kids, an art practice, pets and a household to manage, sustainable shopping and keeping the kids happy are not things that come easily. Cheesy crackers, veg meat products, even bread and wraps all come in their own sealed little plastic bags. If I want a clean house, I have to buy more ready-made items that will all come from one store to save on shopping time so that I can spend more time cleaning. If I want more organic, local, sustainable ingredients, I end up spending a fortune in both time AND money and lose time for other things such as cleaning, art-making, hobbies, laundry, and spending time with the kids (sorry, Mommy’s cooking a vegetarian meal with raw ingredients and she’ll be in the kitchen for 2 hours!).
When I was a kid I used to dumpster dive. Why are there so many neat things people are throwing away?! Living in the suburbs meant that I didn’t literally dive into dumpsters. Usually it meant that I would come across a neat looking booklet of paper or some kind of interesting packaging in someone’s recycling bin on my way to school on garbage pickup day. I would tuck it safely away into my pocket or backpack and save it for later. Then Maybe I would add it to a collage in my scrapbook, or just pin it to my wall. Or maybe it would get lost in my closet for a few months until my mother nagged me enough to clean out my room and I would go through every single bit and recycle most of it.
I loved collage throughout my life; the texture added that the random neat looking wrappers, especially ones with typography in another language, would make me so happy. I loved how the paper would crinkle after the glue would dry. I loved the stiff feeling of the pages laden with artwork, magazines, newspaper clippings and dried glue would feel. I especially loved painting over these elements and somehow linking them together with one piece of art on the very top. I most of all felt happy and satisfied that I had somehow rescued something from an inevitable life in a landfill and created a safe, beautiful and hallowed space for it in my scrapbook that I would look back on lovingly. I didn’t really share these books with anyone. They kind of sit with my other sketchbooks collecting dust in my closet. Oh well. Making them still brings me joy.
Now that I’m “all grown up” I don’t really make them anymore. By the way, I only consider my duties to be that of an adult. At heart I am very much an irresponsible, selfish, procrastinating messy child and I assume I will be until the day I decide to not be myself anymore. Which is somewhat unlikely. So now that I have a partner with children of our own as well as a house that we all live in, I am finding that I have fewer and fewer hours in the day to do things that actually make me happy. I want to recycle, save, and re-use everything, but dinner has to be set at a certain time or else bedtimes are delayed and then the following mornings are hectic and I let loose a stressed anger that becomes intensified with the mounting mess around me. A tightness fills my chest as I look around seeing all of the things I need to address. Sewing and hemming clothing, framing artwork that I don’t want to let go of that sits in corners of my studio, somehow documenting the lives of my children somehow passing at lightning speed, sorting recipes, organizing shelves, painting bedrooms, renovating, filing papers… When did life get so insane?
I feel a pain in my heart when I find myself tossing items that I used to take the time to care for, keep, and turn into art. Things I used to create whimsically without any concern that it would sell or not get tossed because I just don’t have the time for anything. I use the excuse that I am a messy artist living in disorder when deep down inside I really do want a nice, clean home with organized belongings. But the truth is that I just don’t understand how I can be environmentally conscious while living in the suburbs, keeping my home clean and livable, my family happy and still somehow stay sane.
Anyway, all this is just a huge venting rant that will lead up to what I’m starting to work on now.
I’ve decided to start keeping my trash.
So a couple months ago I started keeping my stuff again. I’m flattening it, washing & rinsing it if needed, and tucking it away. I have a big bag of it, and it fills up faster than I can use it. I have a lot of projects I should be working on right now – a magazine for print publication, paintings for a show, painted teaching material, renovations and cleaning, sewing, and making some appointments. But instead I dumped out the bag of scraps and madly stuck them all onto a new canvas (that was supposed to be used for something else) with matte gel medium.
I will paint something meaningful and beautiful on it.
And someone will buy it. Maybe. Or not. Either way, it’ll be a standing symbol of my frustrations for a life I have inevitably chose which has its own rewards as well as byproducts.