Friday, September 4, 2009


Since arriving in my community, I have become acutely aware of my relationship with plastic. There is no trash pick up in this town. I imagine that this arrangement wasn't a problem before the advent of plastic packaging. People could just throw their corncobs wherever, and they would dry out and decompose. Same thing goes for any other kind of organic waste. But now almost everything comes with plastic - from bars of soap to bags of fruit to bottled drinks. And there is nowhere for it to go. Many people continue to treat all garbager as though it were as innocuous as corncobs; hence, the town is littered with chip wrappers, shredded shopping bags, and crushed soda bottles. For my own waste, I've started a compost pile, which takes care of most of what I generate - unlike my Nicaraguan friends, I'm not comfortable just chucking stuff - but the plastic I don't know what to do with. I save bottles for reuse as seed trays, but that still leaves me with all kinds of plastic packaging. Currently, I save it up and dump it in a waste basket in one of the bigger towns.

I'd like to say that I was working on eradicating plastic from my life, but if corn takes first place as the root of Nicaraguan culture, plastic might come in a close second (ditto for America). Plastic chairs are a must for receiving visitors in one's home. Without them, the social fabric of Nicaragua might come apart. Plastic water vessels are also indispensible, as the town only has running water for two hours a day. On my meager salary, which is not even as meager as what most Nicaraguans live on, it would be practically impossible to furnish my home without relying on Plastinic, the country's chain store where all things plastic are sold. Everything in my PC medical kit is packaged in plastic. I also must admit that I cherish packaged foods in a way that I never did in the relatively parasite-free land of my birth.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that doing without plastic does not seem either realistic or desireable. At the same time, it is important to recognize that plastic doesn't just go away. We as a species are choking out the oceans with plastic garbage (look up the Eastern Garbage Patch). Here in my community plastic trash is a horrible eyesore. Even when it finds its way to a landfill, our plastic trash will basically never decompose.

Plastic is a case in point for th edifferences between environmental problems in Nicaragua and in the US. Here, environmental problems are immediate and in your face. Pesticide use is contaminating the rivers that many people still use to wahs their clothing and themselves, and deforestation is changing rainfall patterns, causing farmers to lose crops. As in the case of plastic, there are good reasons why people keep spraying - otherwise they might lose their crops to pests or diseases - and cutting down trees - they need the firewood and the farmland. But environmental issues are never simple. If they were, they probably wouldn't become issues in the first place.

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