Same word, different day | Moment's Notice

By Maria Montalvo | Dec 11, 2016

S’up? Or, to be more 1980s contextually accurate, Yo, s’up?

Back in the day (middle school), we would greet each other with that mash up of words (what, is, and up) with a sharp pause after the first syllable and a slightly elongated emphasis on the “u” and “p” in order to demonstrate just how difficult it was to a) speak in full sentences, b) create a language that only our peers could understand and c) show minimal interest in someone else while still keeping the focus on our own disillusionment.

It sounded like “yO . . . suuupp” (no actual query since it was not intended to be answered other than with a reflexive “s’up”).

We placed a lot of meaning into such a small word– “sup.” These days, I prefer the definition: to eat an evening meal, to dine. And now, SUP has a new use, as an acronym for “Single Use Plastic,” plastic you use once and throw away. This new usage was introduced to me by an 8-year-old girl, or as I refer to her, Eco-warrior.

A few months ago, my friend Ruth Arista organized a cleanup project along the waterfront, part of the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup Day (September 17th). More than 40 volunteers (including Eco-warrior) showed up on a cold, rainy, and windy Saturday morning to collect more than 50 pounds of trash and 25 pounds of recyclables in less than three hours, along a mile of Edmonds shoreline.

The majority of our trash bags were filled with plastic and, in most cases, single-use plastic. Imagine the individual-size yogurt container or bag of cookies or chips, the plastic bag with your sandwich for lunch, the top of your coffee cup or fork with your takeout.

After picking them up one-by-one, we got to talking about how much was in the sand, washing into the waves and going out into the ocean.

At this point, Eco-Warrior asked the adults if we had heard of the SUP 30-Day Challenge. None of us had, but immediately went home and did our research. Since then, I have painstakingly attempted to follow the rules – taking a reusable coffee cup on business trips, not buying individual-size anything, carrying around a fork. It is not easy to try, and honestly, basically impossible to succeed. So much is packaged in single-use plastic, and not just food.

So, is this just another liberal feel-good stunt?

The more I think about it, and about Eco-warrior, the answer is no. Plastics not only impact our health and environment, but manufacturing them is a major user of fossil fuel. About 8 percent of the world’s oil production goes to make plastics (about 42 percent worldwide goes to auto gasoline).

Because of its possible industrial and practical uses, plastic production is growing and can certainly bring good with the bad.

And that is where SUP matters. We can encourage recycled or recyclable/biodegradable plastics along all stages of the commercial chain, from production to consumption. We can still gain the efficiencies and safety, convenience, less reliance on petroleum, use of more U.S.-produced materials like corn and soy, less trash, and, yes, dramatically positive impacts to the environment.

Science knows how to do this – it’s called green chemistry, and it is inching its way in to the production stream. Plastic use is not just an environmental issue.

As consumers, we have the power to ask business to change their practices. From the spinach feta wrap I order at Starbucks to the plastic strip in a tissue box or the binding around an iPhone box, SUP is everywhere.

Eco-warrior and her generation certainly have a more impactful meaning than my generation did for SUP. Unlike my generation’s rhetorical question, this SUP requires an answer, yo.


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