The Plastic Practice

Dear Asian Youth,


The imminent threat of climate change has reemerged as a topic of concern after a Metronome digital clock sprawled across a 14th Street building facing Union Square was temporarily installed in New York, counting down to the hundredth of a second until climate change has an irreversible impact. This visibly ticking timer and many other factors have grown concern in many about the lasting impacts of climate change and the little amount of time left before the Earth undergoes irreversible changes.


Through this concern, many mommy bloggers and social media influencers have begun their sustainable life posts and advocacies, showing off aesthetic trash cans and reusable mason jars. In no way am I bashing these stars for promoting change and what's good for our planet; but I find it ironic that many people of Asian heritage, Latinx heritage, and other ethnic groups have been practicing the three Rs (reducing, reusing, and recycling) religiously before it was popular.


My Chinese mother always makes a point to save grocery bags. Under California legislature, stores were mandated to charge for single-use plastic bags to combat the overall use of plastic and encourage sustainable multi-use cotton or polymer bags. Even without such a restriction, my parents, along with many others, due to past experience or cultural norms, have habitually been saving these bags. In my house, I have a cabinet full of single-use plastic that we reuse. As these practices became more mainstream, the original groups that adopted these habits became suppressed under white granite countertops and flower centerpieces. There is a hypocrisy in thinking something is “cool” because your social media inspiration is doing it aesthetically, but condemning my mom as frugal or cheap as she folds and stashes her bags. It evokes a culture of popularity dominated by the West. Why should we be so Eurocentric when we look for inspiration and practice methods that are more efficient and effective?


In addition, as Tik Tok has pointed out, the Danish cookie box is a staple in any reusing household. The joke is that instead of cookies in the box, it is filled with sewing tools or other materials. This is often seen as ethnic communities teasing their own cultures. However, besides the innocent poking members may do to their own kind, there are those who criticize unfamiliar cultures without reason. As exemplified, when white mommies reuse their gift boxes as containers, it is seen as innovative and creative.


The DIY culture that spurred in 2016-2017 on YouTube encouraged people to recycle their products, and now it is as if blogger upcycling is revolutionary. However, I do not think that influencers should stop with their sustainable practices. Rather, I hope they recognize the impact of Eurocentric beauty and culture standards on something so popular and give credit where credit is due.


Regardless of popular culture, the three Rs will never “go out of style” because of their lasting impact on the world. The importance and impact of the three Rs: reducing, reusing, recycling cannot be underestimated. By far, the best “R” is reusing. Reusing is best for many reasons, the most obvious of them all being because it saves the energy that comes with having to dismantle and re-manufacture products. It also significantly reduces waste and pollution because it lessens the need for raw materials, saving both forests and water supplies. On the other hand, reducing the demand for single-use plastics can help the environment by decreasing your footprint on this Earth. However, if not done on a large scale, the results of this method may not be measurable on a large scale. Recycling, although beneficial, should be a last resort. Breaking down these products takes large amounts of resources and much of this waste has to be directed towards landfills in the form of microplastics or second-class plastic materials that consumers deem undesirable.


It is critical we all do our part because, at the end of the day, we are all living on one Earth that needs our support after we have disregarded it for so long; and with the physical and metaphorical clock ticking, I suppose now that there was a method to my Asian mother’s madness. So please, for the sake of your children, your grandchildren, and your great-grandchildren, take steps to reduce waste and be proactive in conservation.


- Allison Li


Cover Photo Source: The San Francisco Examiner