Confronting Plastic at Home, At the Co-op and On Screen

by 
Karen Melton, for the Shuttle
Watching “Plastic China” last month in the friendly confines of the Chestnut Hill Backyard.

When a Weavers Way general manager’s forum on plastic reduction attracted a standing-room-only crowd at the Community Room in Mt. Airy in January, it was clear members were worried about this topic. GM Jon Roesser gave a brief overview of the many uses of plastics in today’s grocery business, noting that in many cases there are few if any alternative packaging options available, even for a store with a primary mission to do minimal harm to the ecosystem. 

The discussion that evening ranged from interest in expanding the number of products that can be purchased in shopper’s own container to the plastic shrink wrap on delivery pallets. Since that event, the Environment Committee agreed to form a new subcommittee on plastic reduction. 

Thirteen members attended the first meeting of the Plastics Reduction Team led by zero-waste consultant and educator Alisa Shargorodsky. The team’s first effort was sponsoring the July 13 screening of “Plastic China.” The award-winning 81-minute documentary was shown at a zero waste picnic in The Backyard at the Chestnut Hill store.

The turnout of nearly 70 people on a summer Friday night highlighted the continuing level of concern about plastic waste. They sat in silence, absorbed in the haunting documentary, which was in Chinese, with English subtitles.

The film was difficult to watch, but it was impossible to look away. It chronicled the lives of two families who live and work amidst literal mountains of plastic refuse, much of it from the United States. In the unnamed Chinese town, thousands of families operate small businesses sorting and shredding plastic material for reuse – jobs of last resort for low-skilled workers.

The camera frequently followed children as they played in the mounds of plastic finding treasures — including pictures to cut out and a bag of brand-new balloons — and as they picked up dead and nearly dead fish along the banks of a plastic-clogged river — which are later cooked and eaten.

As if on cue, just as the film began, the regular Friday evening delivery truck arrived, filled with items for the store on plastic-shrink-wrapped pallets.

The Plastics Reduction Team will keep you informed about its projects and progress. You’re welcome to send ideas and information about plastic reduction to Alisa at asharg.zwc@gmail.com. And if you’d would like to participate in a public forum email group about plastics, contact Outreach Coordinator Bettina de Caumette at outreach@weaversway.coop or 215-843-2350, ext. 118.

Karen Melton is a Weavers Way Working Member.