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My plastic bag problem

I don’t typically read the labels on products, especially those I’m not planning to digest. But the label splashed across a newly purchased spray bottle of Windex was impossible to miss. “Bottle made of 100% OCEAN BOUND PLASTIC” it read.

The label sounded kind of self-congratulatory but seemed to raise as many questions as it answered. What is ocean bound plastic? And how did it plan to get there?

Windex label
Ralph Gardner, Jr.
Windex label

I was familiar with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Also known as the Pacific trash vortex, it covers an area twice the size of Texas. Was Windex saying that they were intercepting plastic on their way to the ocean? And how could they read litter’s mind? Maybe the bottles had no intention of moving from the ponds or streams or roadsides where they were found. Was this just a fancy way of explaining they use recycled plastic?

Windex provided more information on the bottle’s back panel, or rather the flip side of their front panel, even though it was hard to read as you squinted at it through the turquoise liquid and the straw that pumps the unbeatable streak-free all-purpose cleaner from the bowels of the vessel into the nozzle, or squirter.

The rear label explained that ocean bound plastic is debris collected within thirty miles of an ocean or a waterway leading to an ocean. I’m not mocking the company’s good intentions. I just thought the panel assumed the average consumer – that would be me – already knew all about the Ocean Bound Plastic movement, or more accurately the Ocean Bound Plastic prevention movement.

Indeed, my daughter and I collect, but primarily she does, plastic debris whenever we’re at the beach. If you tend to be guilt-ridden and want to feel virtuous there’s no faster, more sure-fire way to do so.

I’m currently contending with another plastics recycling conundrum. This involves the plastic ziploc bags we use to store food. Throwing them away after a single use seems wrong and decadent for any number of reasons. It’s the same impulse that makes me reuse razor blades for as many shaves as possible. You’re amortizing the cost; the more times you’re able to use a blade without nicking yourself or leaving stubble behind the cheaper it becomes. You’re also helping the environment in your own small way, one razor cartridge or ziploc bag at a time; the less often you have to restock.

If the challenge with razors is that they grow dull the problem with plastic bags is that they require rinsing and, depending on what you’ve been storing inside, occasionally intensive scrubbing. Some foods, such as meat, leave behind a grease film, while fruits and vegetables are capable of depositing something resembling pond scum on the sides of the bag.

So the question arises – how much effort should you put into returning a reusable bag to service before discarding it in the trash? And once you’ve cleaned it how are you supposed to dry it. I turn ours inside out and leave them in the dish rack to air dry. Except that’s not really satisfactory because they’re no fun to look at and they hog space that could better be used for wet dishes.

My wife, who’s far better at solving these sorts of spatial challenges than I am, came up with a system, though system might be overdignifying the process, of hanging them from a towel rack using bobby pins in one of our bathrooms. That way they can dry in their own sweet time without becoming eyesores.

At that point we return them to the draw in the kitchen. I don’t know what the name for that drawer is, but every household has one where they store their baggies, Saran Wrap, tin foil, etc. However, random ziploc bags disrupt the tidiness of the drawer; it mocks the neatness of all those bags that have yet to be dispensed from their manufacturer’s boxes.

So what’s the solution? Attempt to stuff them back in the box and make believe they’re brand new? That’s almost impossible since they were obviously filled by robots and each box is an organizational miracle that leaves no margin for error. But if you don’t cram them in a box and they just sit there on top of everything else, probably bloated with air, they make it hard to close the drawer.

So I’ve started collecting them in a shopping bag and keeping the bag in a utility closet behind the kitchen. By the way, as you well know they come in multiple dimensions from pint, to quart, to gallon and with various freshness locking mechanisms. I also attempt to reuse deli bags from supermarkets and resealable bags from farmstands; such as the estimable Berry Farm in Chatham, NY. They package their salad greens in resealable plastic bags.

Unfortunately, out of sight is often out of mind. I might have fifty recycled ziploc bags in the closet but I’m lazy and usually still reach for one of the spanking new ones in the box. Which just compounds the problem. But I’m looking on the bright side: whether new or old, drawer or closet, at least they’re not on their way to the ocean. At least not yet.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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