I draw the line

Life is busy. Mom, wife, teacher, volunteer. Work eight hours, exercise, cook, clean, play, get at least eight hours of sleep. I wake up at 5:45. Coffee, lunches, breakfast, physical therapy for my daughter, all before 7 a.m. Drop off at one school, drive to another, and savor a few extra moments before turning off the car radio.

Then I pull up my big girl panties and slide in the side door to a different, very real world of 600 phenomenal 8-11 year olds full of energy, emotion, trauma, joy, curiosity and need. The day proceeds a million miles a minute, constantly questioning and contemplating everything I say and do and model for those little people who are watching. At the end of the school day, my students leave, and my own kids return to me. They eat every snack in sight as one of them stares at her phone (she’s 12) and the other reads the latest “Dog Man” or “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” (he’s 8). I plan for the next day, despite my intellect almost entirely being quelled. By 4 o'clock, I’m mentally and physically exhausted and nearly all rational thought has left me. At that point we head home, and sometimes, stop at the grocery store. I think to myself, I sure do hope my bags are in the back, where they should be.

Needless to say, I appreciate convenience where I can find it. There is somewhere between convenience and complacency, though, where I draw the line. One of my favorite quotes, by the wise and inspirational Maya Angelou, is “When you know better, you do better.” With more information at our fingertips than ever before, it is now our duty to be informed, critical and adaptable. Change is hard. I can’t believe how hard it is. However, there are things we should change for. When it comes to convenience, I draw the line at single-use plastic bags, plastic straws and plastic water bottles.

Here is what I know. I know that plastic is a material that was originally meant to last a lifetime, but is now being made into single-use items by the trillions, with many of them being used for a matter of minutes. I know that plastic bags given out at the grocery store are made from the lowest quality plastic, which makes their reusability and recyclability severely limited. Did you know the estimated “life” of a plastic bag is a mere 12 minutes? I also know that they catch the wind like a kite, float (and look) like a jellyfish and are carried from garbage cans and drains and landfills by wind and water, ending up in the ocean. If you don't believe it, just Google Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Plastic trash is filling our oceans and waterways.

The life of a plastic bag never really ends. The very first single-use plastics, made before my parents were born, are still on earth. While a plastic grocery bag can take up to 100 years to decompose, a plastic water bottle can take up to 1,000 years. They live out their years accumulating in the stomachs of fish, whales and turtles. They become part of our food chain and soil. It’s time to make a cultural change away from use-and-toss because this is not the inheritance I want to leave my children.

The idea of a sustainable shopping ordinance is a good one. It is time we learn more and do better. I agree that plastic bags are sometimes reused, but can’t we buy a plastic bag for a dollar that is better quality and design, and continue using it for years? Do five billion bags need to continue to be made each year for our massive consumption? We can make this small change and continue demanding better quality items from companies.

If we can be thoughtful about our use of plastic bags, straws and water bottles, perhaps we can also learn to be thoughtful of what we eat, what we say and how we treat those dear to us. I’ve thought long and hard about how I want to live my life. I want life to be one of purpose and thought, not rush and convenience. I want to consider the impact of my choices on others, not think only of myself. I want to be the change I’d like to see in the world.


Olivia Schroeder is a resident of Newport.