My life’s purpose has become my work and I am inclined to be always working nowadays. Yes, the argument that I don’t have a life falters here because being alive makes what I do possible. Mind teaser aside, did you watch the new Toy Story movie? Did you watch Toy Story 3? If you did not, I’ll tell you when to stop reading (spoiler alert).
Going to the movie theater last weekend felt like a calling. I could perceive a golden yellow bright light glowing with confetti and sparkles in my mind when it occurred to me that I could take the time then and there to watch the movie. I didn’t check what time the movie screenings were or which movie theater was the best option but left it all to coincidence. And it worked. I made it to a close by theater at the perfect time for the screening.
Spoiler alert for Toy Story 3
I don’t know if I have a favorite among the Toy Story toys. I know that I can relate a lot to Woody but that I also identified a lot with Buzz Lightyear in the first movie, and I own a Rex Pez dispenser (who are you not to judge?). That, in addition to the fact that I cried A LOT when I first watched Toy Story 3 because I identified with Andy and because… the toys were going to die! Well, they were going to be incinerated alive. I had to watch Toy Story 3 again before I went to watch 4, because I had blocked most of it out, or forgot it, and couldn’t remember most of what had happened.
Watching Toy Story 3 again, while knowing what I now know about waste management and the global plastic problem, brought with it a fresh perspective, which I am inclined to share.
Life was really simple before I had to think about what happened to the garbage we throw out on a daily basis. Earlier in my life, I always assumed that whoever was collecting the trash, knew best what to do with it. We had the two bins at our US home and we had a circular which listed which items to put in the recycling bin. I remember being confused at the fact that no plastic bags were technically allowed in that bin as per the circular, but that the bags were technically plastic, which in my mind back then was synonymous with being recyclable. Our loose paper and recyclables always made it in plastic bags before they made their way into the bin for recyclables. There was no short supply of plastic bags when we shopped at the local Walmart or Giant Eagle where they were liberally available for us to pack our bought items in, for free. I also remember thinking a lot, back then, before throwing an empty yogurt container into the recyclables bag and wondering whether it was really necessary to rinse it, a practice I had come across somehow on TV. Nowadays, I don’t even eat yogurt.
Did you know that not every item that you put in the recycling bin actually gets recycled? Did you know that a lot of your garbage, if not recycled, does not just rot away in landfill, or get incinerated, but can actually take 400+ years to begin to decompose?
I don’t eat yogurt now because I cannot bring myself to ignore what I know: the fact that an item can be labeled as “recyclable” but be technically not, and that we are producing more trash every day than our existing and limited waste management systems can properly sort, bail, store and sell or process. I know fully well that my doing so will not make an inkling of a difference if the companies which produce the yogurt keep producing and supplying more yogurt to mostly hapless customers, and if the superstores that sell the yogurt have no qualms about simply throwing unsold and expired or perfectly good stock because it’s cheap. I could take comfort in assuming that with existing automated supply chain management technology the demand would be adjusted, but I am only one of many who do not know what I know.
Back to Toy Story 3
But before I do, did you notice that Woody called for a “plastic corrosion awareness meeting” in the original Toy Story? I never batted an eye at that before but it came to my attention when, yes, I rewatched the original before I went to watch Toy Story 4. Also in the original, Buzz proclaims that he’s made of “terrillium carbonic alloy.” [??]
So what happens to the garbage you throw out? In Toy Story 3 we’re taken on a journey from curbside collection to the waste facility. I didn’t know we had waste incinerators in the US, and didn’t question their existence when I watched Toy Story 3 for the first time. I guess many of us who are unfamiliar with waste management assume that our trash is bound for incineration at some point or the other. How else would you get rid of it? Well, in the waste management rulebook (if one exists), burning waste to generate energy is what you do after you have exhausted the prior step of making sure you have separated out that which can be recycled. In the movie, recyclables, were separated by Andy’s mom in a blue container, collected separately, and whatever ended up in the trash bin that made its way to “Tri-County Landfill” was only screened for metals. The toys, plastic as they are, were doomed.
Now on to Toy Story 4 : spoiler alert
“I’m trash!” -Forky
Was anyone else disappointed in Bonnie? How could she? I mean, Woody was special to Andy, he was going to go with him to college, and Andy asked Bonnie to take care of him. How could she abandon him like that? I am a feminist and I was upset that I had to live with that storyline. At the end of the movie I wanted Woody to leave with Bo but I couldn’t help but think of Andy. Woody made it through generations of Andy’s family for God’s sake. He was a
“family toy!” I get carried away.
You wouldn’t believe how gleeful I felt when Woody reached into the trash bin to provide Bonnie with material for the kindergarten project, and I was ecstatic that the outcome was Forky, an upcycled spork! Things like that are a source of joy to me nowadays. That barely used spork was destined for landfill, and now it’s Bonnie’s new best friend, a toy she was attached to and one she couldn’t replace.
“There’s only one forky!” -Bonnie
In Toy Story 3, we were introduced to Bonnie as a child who takes care of her toys, unlike Molly, Andy’s sister. Forky, despite being what it literally is, trash (sorry Woody), was of value to Bonnie because she took ownership of it. It wasn’t a mass produced perfectly manufactured toy, but it meant the world to her. Now, as any parent with kids her age knows, if she wasn’t able to re-locate Forky, she might have been able to forget about him within a couple of days. Regardless, and seeing that her parents were nice enough to go out and look for it (because she’s an only child maybe?), genuine appreciation was there for that upcycled awkward looking piece of work, that is not a “Talking Action Figure” (referring to picture above).
Leaving the theater that day I thought, “How cool! Now, we can promote upcycled toys made out of trash!” (and I meant it). That is, until a kid walked past me in the mall, a couple of days later, with a “Forky Action Figure,” his dad and older siblings trailing behind.
A little bit of a background
I own a plastic TMNT action figure that I only bought 5 or 6 years ago, and for a long time I had kept it in its plastic encasement until I finally decided to liberate it in order to actually play with it. The closest I have come to playing with it is alternating its stance from standing to seated to try to figure out which one is more stable for display.
Back to Toy Story 3
What I loved about Andy and Bonnie is that their imagination went wild when they were playing with toys. I do remember that I liked to role play as a kid but I don’t remember playing with toys, not like that. Watching Andy and Bonnie play with their toys was refreshing, especially in our day when we’d rather hand an iPad to a baby. Toy stores are still there, but are they as frequented as they were back when technology had not infiltrated our lives like it has now? Well, what was it like before all the plastic toys, and before mass production was possible? What was it like for those who could not afford to buy pre-manufactured toys for their kids? We don’t have to go that far: what happens when a kid is not allowed to take a toy to school (as was the case with Bonnie)?
When kids make toys
The beautiful thing about Bonnie is that she is a caring person (or character). Come to think of it, from her perspective, she didn’t do Woody any harm! She only left him in the closet, and he was probably going to still be there if Andy had come back for him (I sympathized so much with the toys that I ended up forgetting that to humans they were inanimate objects!) Bonnie was a kid who valued inanimate objects, and now you understand why her parents didn’t just leave assuming that she would soon forget about Forky; they were caring people too. Whether or not caring, as a trait, is inherited, nurtured or is simply a survival mechanism, is open to debate (taking into account that Molly didn’t care about her toys, but Andy did; and that Andy’s mom was a single parent who might have been abandoned by a partner who didn’t care enough for kids? To think that a movie about toys led to this!) But the point is, it was this caring that led to the appreciation for and the valuing of trash, Forky. But before that, the necessity, for the creative endeavor that is Forky, was there.
If, like me, you became aware of the global plastic problem, would you be able to bring yourself to ignore it? Should you?