Single-use Plastic, Twenty Years Later

I’m about to go out and hang flyers inviting everyone to a Plastic-Free Potluck, and I’m taking the jar of thumbtacks from my desk drawer at home. This jar once held Vitamin C tablets from Revco, which used to be a drugstore chain here in Pittsburgh. Up the hill, where Pamela’s diner is now–that used to be a Panera, and before that it was a CVS drugstore, but before that it was a Revco.

I remember this jar because it was the first product I bought that had an expiration date in the twenty-first century.And now we are wrapping up the second decade of that century, and here is this jar. Intended to hold vitamins for a few years between their manufacture and 2000, this jar was then to be thrown away.

Eternity in my hand.

Don’t even try to tell me it’s okay because it’s recyclable. Oh yes, by the late 1990s most consumer-product bottles had their code numbers stamped on the bottom, but this one is a 6, polystyrene. Polystyrene bottles have never been accepted for recycling in any program around here.

I did throw away all the other bottles like this that I ever bought. Every one of them is still with us on Earth in some form–mostly shards in landfills, probably. This one, at least, has served a purpose for a much longer period of time than intended, and it’s done just fine in its second career.

Of course this isn’t the most beautiful, helpful, or healthful container in which I could possibly keep my thumbtacks. I had a more accurate and decorative label on it for years, but it fell off, so now it’s got a torn-up version of the original label. The lid is orange, my least-favorite color. Its appearance doesn’t “spark joy.”

BUT IT WORKS. It holds the thumbtacks–of which, by the way, about 60% are from the value pack of thumbtacks I bought at the beginning of college, in 1991, at a Thrift Drug, yet another drugstore chain that isn’t here anymore–and it holds them even if I carry the bottle around in a bag. This bottle has kept my thumbtacks so that I don’t have to keep buying more thumbtacks. (I used to hang posters using a stapler. I’ve hung a lot more posters than I have used thumbtacks over the years!!)

Normally this jar stays in my drawer, so it doesn’t matter what it looks like. What matters is that the tacks don’t get loose in the drawer and that I can find the bottle by touch because it’s different from any other container in the drawer.

The thumbtacks came in a ripsy clear-plastic box that fell apart quickly. I had put them in a cardboard box from floppy disks, then in a plastic freezer bag, and both of those were terrible, and then after a few years I thought of putting them in a bottle. And two decades later, here we are!

If more of our things can live such long and useful lives, we can have a much cleaner and more plentiful future.

Plastic-Free Potluck Dinner!

Pittsburghers Against Single-Use Plastic (PASUP) welcome everyone to an evening of dinner and conversation. Bring food that you bought, prepared, and served with minimal single-use plastic–and if you do have some SUP, bring it along for our Recycling Roadshow! No pork or shellfish allowed in the building; plant-based food is encouraged.

Sunday, December 15, 2019
5:00-7:00 pm
Temple Sinai, 5505 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15217
RSVP (optional)
Free! Donations welcome to help cover expenses.

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