I’m worried. Worried about the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, to be exact. It starts, as these things do, innocently enough. I’m reading a book called The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman. The book is a fascinating look at what would happen to the planet Earth if all of the humans suddenly disappeared. How long it would take for manmade structures to crumble, how the vegetation would change, what animal populations would do. Projections of the incredible lengths of time required for many toxins to be broken down are sobering.
But things get worse from there. The author tells the story of Captain Charles Moore of Longbeach, CA, who sailed into the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, a high pressure vortex of swirling currents between Hawaii and California, also known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It took him a week to sail across, plowing his way through floating garbage, overwhelmingly composed of plastic: fishing nets, plastic pellets from manufacturing, plastic wrap, but mostly plastic bags.
And it just continues to get worse. Not only is the plastic there, it is sponging up toxins like DDT and PCBs in wildly concentrated doses, which are then being ingested by sea animals. By 2005, the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre measured 10 million square miles–nearly the size of Africa. There are also 6 other ocean gyres.
By this time, I’m feeling a depressing sense of personal responsibility. I recycle, but most plastic bags aren’t readily recyclable. And I do use plastic bags—in the freezer, to carry fruit to work, but especially for my cheese. I typically buy three or four kinds of cheese at once, and eat them gradually over the course of a week or two. Individual Ziploc bags seem to provide the best storage for cheese, preventing absorption of odors from other foods, and keeping the cheese from drying out or molding before it is eaten.
I don’t really want to stop using plastic bags for my cheese. Nor do I want to wash and re-use the bags like a frugal drudge. But I start to picture myself in a lifeboat, gobbling cheese and laughing wildly while throwing Ziploc bags over the side into a sea of garbage. And here’s the problem with liberal guilt. Frankly, it’s a lot cooler to have the guilt than to do anything about it. The guilt reassures me that I’m a good person. Starting a plastic bag crusade feels like I may be going a little too far, taking things a bit too seriously, becoming one of those people who monopolize dinner conversations and preach on their blogs…
Sigh. I resolve to consider alternative storage solutions for my cheese, but I don’t actually do anything about it.
Until a few nights later, when I’m watching the Colbert Report, and Captain Charles Moore makes an appearance to talk about the plastic filling up our oceans. He’s an earnest middle-aged sea captain in a dress uniform complete with gold braid and epaulets. He’s no dreadlocked hippy droning on about the environment. This salty clean-cut sailor probably entertains his grandkids with stories of great whales and tropical storms and pirate’s gold. He pulls out a dish of beach sand that is riddled with bits of brightly colored plastic, and says he just scooped this sand off a beach in Hawaii.
He is clearly passionate about this topic. I watch him fiddle with his hands as he talks, maybe a little nervous, but determined to get his point across. I really like Captain Moore. And what’s more, I believe him. Something does need to be done to stop the flow of trash into the ocean. And it’s apparent to me that the most immediate thing I can do to help is to reduce the amount of non-recyclable plastics I’m throwing away.
What I need is a mini-cheese cave, like a cheese humidor, I decide. Unsure whether there is such a thing, I take to the internet and find that there really is a product being marketed as a cheese humidor. However, on closer inspection, this “humidor” turns out to be a large plastic food storage container with a smaller plastic storage container inside of it. The smaller container has holes drilled in it, and a sponge inside. The directions say to fill the small container with water and a drop of dish soap to retard mold growth. Full stop.
I just bought a lovely Basque Argental, a raw sheep’s milk cheese that I was smelling thoughtfully when the cheese counter guy at the Central Market offered to unwrap it and give me a taste. He cut a sliver for himself too, and we stood companionably savoring and smiling at each other. “It has a nice finish, doesn’t it?” he asked. “Yeah, a bit of lanolin aroma,” I replied. I am not storing that cheese in a container with a moldy sponge, and I certainly do not intend to let it absorb eau d’ dish soap either.
There are plenty of Ziplocs left in the box. Frankly, I’ve got time to come up with an answer. But I’m ready to stop buying four sizes of Ziplocs and experiment with alternative storage solutions. Wax paper? Tiny little Tupperware containers? Heaven knows I have plenty of those…