000_0114I hate plastic. It’s kind of like saying “I hate air” as it’s all around you. I’m the one who will take a plastic fork home, run it through the dishwasher with all the rest of my plates and cookware, and reuse it a few more times out of guilt. Yes, supposedly plastic is recyclable but I’m dubious. I keep reading about the section of the Pacific Ocean that has a span stretched as large as Texas full of plastic junk and it just gives me the creeps. Yes, Whole Foods and other stores have the disposable cutlery that’s made out of potato, but if they end up in a landfill, they won’t decompose. But those landfills will become golf courses or malls anyway, right, so I guess it doesn’t matter. (Oh, golf courses, a million gallons of watering a day, the news just gets worse, eh?).

Which leads me to plastic packaging. It drives me nuts. I cringe when buying electronic equipment the size of my hand in plastic packaging the size of my torso (how do you open those beasts, anyway?). And one reason why I try to cook as much as I can is that getting food to go is an ecological disaster. Yes, it’s been a couple decades now since McDonald’s stopped putting their burgers in Styrofoam, but the over-packaging from fast food and restaurants is still appalling. I used to fly weekly out of LAX (the world’s largest Greyhound station), and sadly enough, the only decent place to eat is at McD’s. So I’d get my healthy salad and a yogurt parfait, with all the accessories wrapped individually in plastic, and just wince when I realized that there was more packaging than stuff I could actually eat. It’s outrageous!

So let me give an anecdote about Argentina, a wonderful place I’ve visited three times and could move to in a heartbeat. Now, on the surface, Argentina is not Green Ground Zero. Automobile mission standards, I surmise, are either ignored or non-existent. Buenos Aires really is the Paris of South America—dog poop is everywhere and your eyes will itch on a summer day from all the exhaust. And yes, garbage really can ruin the atmosphere in San Telmo—there’s that old world mentality that you can throw something away, cause the garbage crews will just pick up your trash (maybe) overnight.

But a couple things struck me—first, food. Even the most snobby Porteños eat seasonally. At the produce stands, I’d ask where everything was from, and nothing was from Peru or Chile—or even Brazil—peaches are eaten in summer, apples in winter. Oranges have flavor, tomatoes have color, lettuce isn’t dismembered and placed in a cellophane bag. There wasn’t this American neurosis of well, if I can’t have my strawberries during season, I’ll have it shipped from the other hemisphere!

Second . . . food to go. Neighborhoods are loaded with little bakeries and cafeterias that serve savory tarts, empanadas, pizza that would make New Yorkers blush, breads, cookies, pastries, etc., which of course are fantastic. What I loved was that rather than putting everything in a hideous plastic to-go container, they were simply wrapped in butcher paper, taped shut, and loaded into a bag (yes, sometimes plastic bags, which I’ll kvetch about later, but none of this Safeway nonsense of 2 items per bag!). And you know what? This old school packaging worked! Nothing spilled or leaked, my goodies were warm, and even if the packaging wasn’t recycled, surely less space in a landfill was consumed.

At one point during the last trip to South America, I regressed and while waiting for a boat in the nearby river delta town, Tigre, we wanted a snack and well, the closest place was McDonald’s. Well, what the heck. Face it Americans—90% of you who have traveled abroad have been to a McDonald’s to see “what it’s like” and the other 10% of you are liars. Anyway, we shared a salad, and sure enough—it was in monster plastic packaging. I felt deflated. This is a global trend I don’t want to see.

My crowing about eating seasonally and not over packaging in Argentina doesn’t mean that country is the picture of ecological health. They have a farming lobby that is powerful and resists most reforms, and after all, Argentinean beef means lots of . . . Argentinean cow manure. But my point is that sometimes the old ways of doing things are cheaper, more practical, and in the end . . . more sustainable.

I’ll pick on the East Asian countries and their insistence that every cookie or choco-pie in a package be individually wrapped later . . .

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he specializes in social media consulting and strategic communications. A journalist and writer since 2009, his work has appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Areas of interest include the <a Middle East, sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (Leon Kaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). Since 2013, he has spent much of his time in Abu Dhabi, UAE, working with Masdar, the emirate's renewable energy company. He lives in Fresno, California.