I sounded like Darth Vader and looked like I’d gone on a date with Bane from Batman. Well, maybe it wasn’t that badass.
Like others in this COVID era, I’ve gone through a mask evolution – surgical, single cloth, double cloth, cloth with filter, and those KN95 masks that look like the 21st century version of the beaked plague mask. A respirator mask was a whole different experience. It was like wearing scuba gear on land, but you look like an insect getting ready for a science experiment.
I wasn’t auditioning for a small-town production of Mad Max or practicing for the nuclear apocalypse. My foray into extreme headgear started like all weird purchases and drastic changes in my life – by learning of yet another way this world is terrible!
It went a little something like this.
My pent up frustration at this ridiculous country (I live in the US) needed an outlet that did not consist of me laying awake at 2am seething in anger while imagining all the things I’d like to say, but never will, to all the people who are ruining the planet and sending us back to the Dark Ages.
Yes, I went from Darth Vader to Dark Ages to plastic. To be specific, I learned that only 6% of all plastic in the US gets recycled. Six percent! (Don’t believe me, read this article from Smithsonian Magazine.)
So, what is a person type with a penchant for rebellion and reactionary responses to do? Obviously, the answer is to hoard plastic.
First, I tried to do the more seemingly logical thing. I vowed to stop buying any and all plastic. Hard fail. (With my family’s unwillingness to give up weekend takeout and the world’s general reliance on plastic, this didn’t work.)
The next logical leap (in my mind, at least): hoard all of the plastic.
I started keeping plastic from takeout deliveries, the grocery store and Amazon packaging. But, even when trying not to accumulate a lot of plastic, one accumulates a lot of plastic. It piled up in our house faster than the classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.
Soon my husband asked me if we were really keeping all this plastic. This was code for “when will you abandon this like you abandoned those miniature cardboard houses made from hoarding boxes?” (Side note: I abandoned my cardboard houses when I realized cardboard will biodegrade without poisoning the earth, generally, but plastic!!! Yes, I know deforestation. I can only hoard one thing at a time.)
So back to all that plastic filling up our house…I watched hours of YouTube craft videos to figure out what to do. I didn’t need 47 jugs turned into watering cans or 10,000 pencil holders.
It was time to art it up. Per my daughter’s suggestion, I started painting the plastic, cutting it up and making mosaics like the one below (as part of my annual holiday book tree – see more on that here, if you’re interested) and this art piece of a tree (a mea culpa for abandoning saving the trees for plastic).
But I wanted to do something else. Something different. Mosaics were fun, but I wanted to try other ways to use plastic.
I noticed a piece of plastic melted in our dishwasher, bending into a flower shape, and an idea began to bloom (wink wink). I decided to turn these discarded, forgotten objects people use up and throw away into an ode to female strength and resilience by embracing that age-old symbol for women — flower power. This also partially sated my insatiable anger over the overturning of Roe v Wade.
Thus began my plan to melt plastic and shape it into flowers. In my dishwasher.
Unbenknownst to me at the time, this approach released toxic chemicals into my house! My day job is science-based content editing, but I am writer at heart, not a scientist. What do I know about chemistry?
Luckily, I do know people who know things, and one of them gave me a helpful lecture on the dangers of melting plastic. (Suffice it to say, it can lead to many health complications!)
Bye-bye plastic flower girl power art project, you say?
My smart, chemistry-inclined friend walked me through the precautions I needed to take without risking future respiratory and cancer diseases in the name of trying to save the planet (albeit on a small scale). Don’t burn it. Melt it at low temperatures. Do it in a well-ventilated area, preferably outside. And, very importantly, wear a respirator.
To replace the dishwasher, I grabbed an old toaster, tugged on the respirator and got to baking my plastic.
So far, I am pleased with the results.
Now, only 999 flowers to go…. Stay tuned for the final product and other plastic reformation projects. Now that I’ve caught the bug (by looking like one in my respirator perhaps?) for recycled plastic art projects, the ideas are rolling in. Halloween decorations get ready for my plastic revolution!