Waste Basket

Reflection, in Honor of Plastic-Free July.

This is a waste basket, the kind made out of waste. The broken base of it came from the free box of a garage sale last Saturday. The plastic ribbons are single-use plastic packaging used to ship construction materials: three of the four colors picked up off the floor of a Home Depot last Friday and the last from a construction site we hiked past on Sunday. The orange bristles are from last winter, the detritus of snow brush machines used to clear sidewalks in some parts of the city.

Plastic (aka oil, aka fossil fuel) waste can be nearly as beautiful as it is insidious and destructive. It’s all part of the broken system we are in, part of the failing, unjust world we choose each time we buy a snack in plastic, or drive (which includes not just microplastics from tires but all the plastic in the machine and the fuel itself), the world Home Depot chooses in its sourcing.

It’s fascinating how the sizes of these plastic waste materials match up with more standard, natural, compostable basket-weaving materials (to my novice eyes). Our lives are intrinsically connected to the world we evolved in, so much so that we unwittingly replicate its dimensions in the plastic we extrude.

I started this basket, then walked to the hospital to spend 24 hours with my restless 100 year-old father, his prognosis shifting from end-of-life conversations to dietary changes in the course of the day. He predates plastic, predates the normalization of single-use packaging/items and the modern, completely thoughtless relationship with the produced material world. His relationship to it, his bewilderment at the unfettered waste of grocery shopping, shaped my millennial view of it, gave me pause and made visible and terrifying what was insidiously invisible.

I have no particular insight into spiraling plastic waste except I want out, I’ve wanted out with increasing urgency each year that passes. Not in my name. Not with my dollars. Not while I can act and talk and choose differently.

Instead, this is how I sate my desire for novelty, my hunger for brightly colored art supplies, my yearning for the better-future-now promises of shopping. I scour sidewalks and trash bins for materials, peek into free boxes, eye the detritus of infrastructure. I turn trash over in my hand, running through possibilities based on its weight, color, durability, before I decide to take it home. Even what we have discarded is overflowing abundance, there for the taking.

Julia Curran is a contributor to Climate Steps, and, via her handle @happifydesign, has been writing, creating, and discovering with photography (and cooking and mending and exploring) for several years via Instagram and Twitter. A friend and fellow Climate Reality Leader, she has offered to share some of her writings here – past and present.

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