“So now they’re banning plastic bags at the grocery store,” Jenny’s father said, once everyone was settled at the table with their Thanksgiving meals. “It’s ridiculous.”
“It’s good, actually,” Madison said.
“Here we go,” Phil said under his breath.
“Nonsense,” the old man protested. “What does it matter whether we use a paper bag or a plastic bag? They both get recycled. They take the plastic ones back right there at the store.”
“Plastic recycling is a myth,” Madison said.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“I mean there’s no such thing. The plastic industry invented this idea of recycling plastics to keep people from making them pay the whole cost of cleaning up the trash they produce.”
“That sounds like a crazy conspiracy theory to me,” he said. “You hear that on CNN or MSNBC?”
“It’s the truth,” she said. “The vast majority of plastics end up in landfills or the ocean. A few plastic bottles get shredded up to use in carpets or to stuff mattresses. And everything else gets burned. That’s not recycling.”
“I don’t know where you’re getting your information,” he said. “But I think if that were true, everyone would know about it. And anyway, the fact that people don’t recycle isn’t the plastic industry’s fault.”
“But Grampa, people do recycle. They bring those bags back to the grocery store, and we separate out all the different plastics for the city to take away. But there’s nothing to do with all that plastic, and so they just dump it.”
“That can’t be true,” he said.
“It is though. I talked to the city’s trash hauler myself. He told me the city is dumping the recycling right in the landfill. Did you know that micro-plastics are now everywhere? They’re in the rain. They’re in the air. They are in our food.” Madison held up a spoonful of mashed potatoes for dramatic effect. “Every person consumes a credit card’s worth of plastic every week. And we have no idea what effect that is going to have on our species or the environment.”
“I read they were able to burn plastics to produce electricity,” he said. “So that’s not so bad.”
“It’s a fossil fuel, Grampa. That’s just pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere.”
“Oh, here we go again with the global warming, nonsense,” he said. “You shouldn’t believe everything you read on the Facebook.”
“The greenhouse effect is real. We’ve known about it for more than thirty years, and your generation has done absolutely nothing about it. And now my generation is left with a hundred-trillion-dollar cleanup problem. If we don’t do something to reduce carbon and methane in the atmosphere, this is going to be waterfront property.”
“That’s not proven,” he said. “There’s still a lot of debate among the scientists.”
“No, Grampa,” Madison protested. “There actually isn’t. There’s a massive disinformation campaign that the Koch brothers funded after Bill Clinton accepted the Kyoto protocols. But there’s never been any real debate about the greenhouse effect or global climate change.”
“It’s just a theory,” he huffed.
“So is gravity.” Madison took a roll off her plate and held it over the floor. “Shall we test that theory?”
Jenny finally spoke up, “Okay, that’s enough, you two. Thanksgiving isn’t the time for fighting. It’s the time to get together with family and be thankful for what we have.”
“Hard to be thankful when Grampa’s generation is giving my generation a completely fucked planet to clean up.”
“Madison! Language!” Jenny scolded.
“She has a point,” Phil said.
“Not helping, Phil,” Jenny growled.
Phil smirked at Madison and persisted. “I mean, at this point, what can we do? We can ban plastic straws and grocery bags—”
“All single-use plastics,” Madison interrupted.
“Okay, sure. All single-use plastics. Go back to using paper and glass and metal,” Phil said.
“All actually recyclable,” Madison said.
“Right, but at this point, what difference does it make? And the same for greenhouse gasses. Aren’t we past the point of no return?”
“So things are bad, we might as well make them worse, Phil? Is that your final answer?” Madison chided.
“Well, when you put it that way, I guess not,” he said with a laugh. “But what should we be doing, kiddo? How do we fix this mess?”
“Ban single-use plastic. Tax the hell out of all the other plastics and use that money to pay for cleanup.”
“Always with the taxes,” Grampa muttered.
“Yes, Grampa. Taxes are the only solution to the tragedy of the commons. You have to take those externalized costs and internalize them to the people who are making the money. It’s not fair that big oil gets paid to produce plastic, and then I have to pay to clean it up.”
“Sounds like a bunch of liberal gibberish to me,” he said.
Madison sighed and shook her head. “You know that saying, Grampa—either lead, follow, or get out of the way? My generation needs your generation to get the fuck out of the way.”
“Madison! That’s enough. I forbid any more discussion of politics or the environment at this table,” Jenny said.
“Fine,” Madison said, switching her focus to the food on her plate. “I’ll just be over here eating micro-plastics.”
Phil laughed again, and Jenny shot him a withering look.