I have a love, hate relationship with plastics. On the one hand, I think plastics has been a wonderful invention during my lifetime, and many of its applications, such as in medical care, have been hugely beneficial. But, on the other hand, more and more I'm thinking we have too many plastics. Plastics, plastics, plastics everywhere, and more and more and more.
I see myself as coming from an era that began doing plastics, slowly at first, with only a few applications. But as my lifetime has progressed, it seems that everything is turning to plastic. Every time I open a box of cereal, like Cheerios or Raisin Bran, I remember when those sealed bags inside the cereal box were made of waxed paper, not plastic. It was much simpler and easier to open those sealed bags of cereal back in the day. Today's plastic inner bags are tough. One has to have both strategy and strength, or some scissors or a sharp cutting tool. Waxed paper was such a better material for cereal bags.
Then I'm thinking of candy bars. It is nice to remember when opening the wrapper on a candy bar was more of a pleasure than a challenge. Today you have to make war on those candy wrappers, plastics as they are. Back in the day we didn't have to get serious with getting into the candy; it was easier and more pleasurable.
I'm remembering when children's toys, like tricycles and red wagons, were metal machines, intended to last for years of rugged use. Today I see big wheelers that appear to be made nearly all of plastics. They work, and kids can get miles of pedaling out of them, but to me a plastic big wheel is hardly a substitute for a real tricycle, where everything is metal except the tires and the handle grips. When I was little, in the 1940s, my tricycle was a prized possession. I wasn't a rich kid, but I had a fine tricycle and a great Witts Winner Red Wagon. What else did a growing boy need when you were so well equipped as that? I wore out the tires on my tricycle several times, but the trike itself endured, as did my red wagon. A little care and a little oil, and a commitment to keep things in good shape went a long way. Sometimes, today, when I see kids throwing away toys after a year, getting a new bike when the new wears off the old one, or when some part needs fixing, I wonder??
When my wife Nancy and I were first married, I remember how recycling was done in the '60s and '70s.
We bought our milk in glass jugs, gallon sized, 93 cents a gallon at the Kroger Store in Bentonville. Each time we went to buy milk, we would take our glass jug from the previous purchase back to the store, and it would be returned to the milk company for cleansing and sanitizing and refilling. I think milk tasted much better in those days, sold in glass, poured into a real glass glass, and taken in with thorough enjoyment. Pretty soon, though, milk began to be sold in paper containers. Those came in pints, half-pints, quarts, half-gallons, and gallon sizes. That diminished the taste to a degree, though not seriously. But, ultimately, milk began to show up in plastic jugs, and in my opinion the quality of civilization went down. We also used to buy our soda pop in glass bottles. Whether it was Coca Cola, or RC Cola, or Dr. Pepper, or NuGrape, or Grapette, or Orange, it was in a glass bottle with a metal cap. The coolers the cold pop came in usually had cap removers on the side, so you could pop off the cap right there as you were buying your 5 cent treat. A bottle of pop would cost you a nickel.
I won't say that nobody has pop in glass any more, because a while back we could order a Coke in a glass bottle at Catfish John's in Rogers. But almost all sodie pop anymore comes in either plastic bottles or aluminum cans. Thankfully, many of those pop containers are recyclable, and I think that's a good deal. We need to find more ways to recycle the glut of plastic that gets thrown away today. I'm of the opinion that we need to get away from the idea of just "getting shud of stuff." We need to think more of where it all goes when we throw it away. Does it go into a landfill somewhere, where it will lie for five or six hundred years? Does it go into the ocean, where it will become a health problem for the sea life? We need to be more aware that throw-away stuff doesn't just disappear when we have tossed it into the trash and the truck has hauled it away. It goes somewhere, maybe to be recycled, or maybe to lie around to no good purpose for hundreds of years.
I really wish we could get away from feeling that everything we buy needs to be wrapped in plastic. It's so unnecessary.
My watermelon and my tomatoes and my pies don't need a plastic box. A disposable paper box would do. I wish my cups of tea or coffee could come in really disposable materials, not plastic.
I still like glass glasses, not plastic glasses. Maybe suitable paper cups may be a little more expensive than plastic. But to me the difference is worth it, and all in all better for the world we will live in in the years ahead.
Editor's note: Jerry Nichols, a native of Pea Ridge and an award-winning columnist, is vice president of Pea Ridge Historical Society. He can be contacted by e-mail at [email protected], or call 621-1621.