Wednesday, December 29, 2010

December 29, 2010 ~ Day 20
Buzz Lightyear and The Dump

Well now I've really done it. At the tender ages of five and three, I've managed to pass along my eco-guilt to my two eldest children. It's bad. This is definitely something they're going to be talking over with a therapist in about twenty years. I can almost hear the future conversation...

"...and then my mother told me that all of my new Christmas toys would end up in a landfill someday, filling me with such anxiety and remorse that I could no longer play with them or even look at them without disgust."

Therapist: "Did you express the anxiety to your mother at that time?"

"Yes, I actually remember saying to my mother 'If Buzz Lightyear is going to end up in a landfill and hurt the Earth, I'm going to punch him in the face.'"

Think I've taken some dramatic license here, readers? I only wish. This is actually exactly what my five year old son said to me about an hour ago... right before he went down for his nap and only moments after both my boys got into a yelling screaming crying fight about which one of them had more toys that were made of plastic and whose toys were going to kill the planet first.

It all started when I tripped for the fifth time in as many minutes on LEGO pieces scattered all over the floor around the kitchen. Frustrated, I commented that I wished our families would give my children toys that weren't going to end up in a landfill some day.

The boys asked me what I meant and it took me a few minutes to explain the concept of how different materials disintegrate over time and why the invention of plastics has permanently changed the natural degradation process of man-made objects. They asked me about how long it would take their artwork, the Christmas tree, the couch, their clothes and even our car to break down into its components.

That's when I did it. I picked up a two inch tall plastic figure and told them, "What's really sad is that this little piece of plastic will still be here on this Earth even when your great-great-great-great-grandchildren aren't alive any more." They looked at the lousy little toy with big eyes and I could see that I'd made impact. "I hate plastic!" my son said. "Me too!" shouted his brother. "Its BAD."

"That's why we should try to ask for gifts that are recycled or recyclable next year," I said, and then gave them a big hug and went about my merry way to shove all of the big cardboard boxes from their new toys into the big blue recycling bin behind our house.

I came back in from the rain to find my three year old sobbing hysterically.

"What is it?" I asked, "Are you hurt?"

"Mommmmmeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HE (pointing to his big brother) says that Woody's hat is going to sit in the landfill for a thousand years!" Big, fat crocodile tears are sliding down my three year old's pudgy cheeks. "And Woody's boots too!!!"

By Woody, he was of course referring to the enormously popular figure from the three Toy Story movies... a highly coveted toy that my younger son was thrilled to receive only a few days ago.

My older son looked embarrassed (to have been caught teasing) but happy. "That's right, but I don't have Woody, I have Buzz."

By Buzz, he was of course referring to the enormously popular friend figure from the Toy Story movies ~ Buzz Lightyear ~ the other highly coveted toy that my older son was thrilled to receive only a few days ago.

All three of us looked at the Buzz toy and I could see a new idea forming in both of my boys' heads. "But mommy LOOK," said the three year old, "Buzz is made out of plastic too!!!"

The five year old started to turn pale and I could see his lip begin to quiver. He looked a little purple around the eyes. And that's when he said it... the words that will surely be repeated in therapy some day: "If Buzz Lightyear's going to end up in a landfill and hurt the Earth, I'm going to punch him in the face!"

Oh geez, what's a mother to do. These are some of the tricky issues I never imagined navigating with small children... how to deal with media, consumer culture and our environment and how they often contradict each other. The Toy Story movies may encourage children to keep and recycle their toys (what could be more powerful than that scene in Toy Story III where the toys make their way to the dump and almost get incinerated?) but at the same time, Disney/Pixar releases a gazillion plastic toys to market to small children which will all mostly end up in that very same dump.

Hypocrisy? Who knows. Maybe Disney/Pixar really hopes that all of the children that buy their Buzz and Woody toys will actually keep and play with those toys for countless generations, carefully handing the toys down for hundreds of years. All I know is, we looked for recycling numbers on Woody's cowboy hat and boots today and found nothing. These toys were not created to be eco-friendly, just profit-friendly.

I'm looking for warnings on the Buzz Lightyear box right now, actually, and while it does say "Not for children under three years" there is nothing about the environmental cost of producing or trashing these toys. I'm thinking about this more and it makes me a little grossed out that the environmentally friendly movie WALL-E (all about a friendly little trash cleaner robot trying to rid the Earth of its mountains of garbage) actually came out with a slew of plastic toys, t-shirts, games, etc. All of which will end up in landfills.

So I just googled "Disney/Pixar Toy Recycling" and got NOTHING about eco-friendly toys. But to my horror, I did find this: For $42.99 we parents can invest in the Imaginext Disney / Pixar Toy Story 3 Playset TriCounty Landfill Junkyard. You must think I am joking but I AM TOTALLY NOT JOKING. We can actually spend a sizeable amount of money to buy a pretend plastic landfill that will soon end up in a real landfill. You know, that is shameful.

So I did a little more digging (forgive the pun, I could have said I was mucking around but I think you get my point LOL) and I found to my horror on an environmentally friendly children's site called "Healthy Kids Go Green" that these plastic toys may NEVER actually decompose. The projected number is ONE MILLION YEARS. Excuse my language but WTF???

And I quote:

"Here’s how long scientists think it may take certain items in our garbage to decompose in a landfill:

(These times will vary depending on soil
and moisture conditions.)

banana – 3 to 4 weeks
paper bag – 1 month
cotton rag – 5 months
wool sock – 1 year
cigarette butt – 2 to 5 years
leather boot – 40 to 50 years
rubber sole (of a boot) – 50 to 80 years
tin can (soup or vegetable can) – 80 to 100 years
aluminum can (soda pop can) – 200 to 500 years
plastic 6-pack rings – 450 years
plastic jug – 1 million years

Styrofoam cup – unknown? forever?
glass bottle – unknown? forever?"

I wanted to know how this was possible, so I looked further for some kind of reputable site and found the following information from HowStuffWorks.Com:

What Happens to Trash in a Landfill?

"Trash put in a landfill will stay there for a very long time. Inside a landfill, there is little oxygen and little moisture. Under these conditions, trash does not break down very rapidly. In fact, when old landfills have been excavated or sampled, 40-year-old newspapers have been found with easily readable print. Landfills are not designed to break down trash, merely to bury it."

So there you have it. I can't reassure my boys that their Buzz and Woody toys aren't going to sit in a landfill for up to a million years... because apparently, they just might.

I started out this article worried about passing on my eco-guilt to my own children, but now I remember why I have eco-guilt in the first place. It seems that our family's lasting contribution to the planet and our fellow humankind will be five or six years worth of disposable diapers, used, and about ten tons of plastic toy trash.

Crud, I need some ice cream. I think I'll go join hands with my now psychologically-damaged children and sing Kumbaya. Either that, or I'll get really pissed off and go sue these guys on behalf of my grandchildren's grandchildren. They might be geniuses but clearly they didn't have the balls to say, "And with this film, there will be only biodegradable toys".

1 comment:

  1. Totally cracking up about PURCHASING a made a lot of great points...miss you! Let's get together soon...d