We use it in our packaging and when we’re building homes,
And medical gadgets devised to help us live longer;
And cars and trucks and furniture and pillows made of foam,
And a bunch of ways to make strong things even stronger.
There’s a million or more uses, the stuff’s just plain ubiquitous,
And with every passing day the list of uses grows;
But as we’ve learned across the years we’ve been a bit precipitous,
Not caring where our leftover plastic really goes.
There’s been attempts at recycling and some have seen success;
That has to be a part of the overall plan;
And source reduction is a key, so you end up making less;
Here’s to the Town of Gt. Barrington and its plastic bottle ban!
Reusing stuff is useful, but a small part of the solution,
And burning and burial are fine if they are done right;
If they’re not, they can easily spread around pollution,
And could help create some lovely new superfund sites.
Disposal is bewildering, how to get rid of this stuff?
There’s so much and so many kinds to consider;
Have we arrived at the place where we have to say “enough!”
Mid a plague of insidious indestructible litter?
But now here’s another problem that most never had imagined,
Which in some ways is empirically worse than those;
And that’s the tiny plastic particles filling up the oceans,
When the fibers are washed off our modern synthetic clothes.
You see this kind of fabric sheds fibers with each load,
And they’re so small they don’t get caught in the washer filter;
They float around till the cycle rinses, then out with the water they flow
And into the septic or to the municipal sewer.
The fibers fool some treatment plants, their filters can’t deliver,
And the particles flow out the same as they flowed in;
Then through a discharge pipe to some handy nearby river,
And then a trip to the sea for a very, very long swim!
Much of the ocean plastic is not made of straws or cups,
Although there’s absolutely billions of pounds of those;
But it’s these little bitty fibers that just keep popping up,
And that take just about forever to decompose.
From Atlantic to Pacific, we’re drowning in acrylic,
And tons and tons of nylon and polyester;
To clean up this plastic mess would make the world idyllic,
But it can’t be treated, superseded or sequestered.
But they do get eaten by tiny critters, and then by bigger beasts,
And up the fabled food chain the plastic goes;
So the next time that you’re downing a fresh-caught seafood feast,
You could be dining on succulent shreds of your very own clothes!
There’s no easy answer, but somewhere we have to begin;
It might be to start by using many more natural fabrics;
A little more hemp, a little more wool, a little more cotton,
And lessen the clothing made from these modern-day plastics.
And what about the garments that are hanging in our closets?
It’d be a shame to throw all this useful stuff away;
We’ll make much better filters for machines that wash composites,
And make sure that in those washers these fibers stay.
And we need more smart technologies, like used by special cleaners,
They eliminate soap and water from the washing equation;
They use long-lived plastic pellets to make the process greener,
By cleaning your clothes with ironic and gentle abrasion!
The next step is to repeat such efforts over and over again,
Because the Earth would be a terrible thing to waste;
If we don’t, we’ll be looking back on the planet very fondly when
We’re all living together in outer space!
Bruce Garlow is the retired town administrator of Richmond, MA and the former longtime moderator of his hometown of Becket, MA, where he also served as the editor of the town’s most recent history book, “Becket, Massachusetts: From Colonial Township to Modern Town, 1765-2015.” He’s a former regular columnist over the years for three Berkshire-based weekly newspapers, a longtime political and community activist, and has been writing and performing (mostly political) poetry for many years.