The Plastic Generation

Recall the famous scene from The Graduate:

Mr. Maguire: Ben. I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.

Ben: Yes sir?

Mr. Maguire: Are you listening?

Ben: Yes, I am.

Mr. Maguire: Plastics.

Plastics. That’s Mr. Maguire’s advice for Ben about his bright future. Of course he was right, even if the full blossom of Plastics has taken many roads and many incarnations. This weekend I was at my nephew’s house and was reminded of this scene in The Graduate because this home, average in many and good ways, has 3 kids and 2 adults and there was more plastic in that house than I’ve seen perhaps ever.

And while most of the plastic may well be useful (who am I to judge the harried life of young parents), there was one area that struck me not only as dumb, but not even useful, and in fact sort of…well, icky.


The shower, the sinks, the kitchen–there was not one bar of soap to be found in the house. Every last bit of soap in the whole house was dispensed out of some kind of plastic container that was most definitely a use-once-and-toss device. That’s right: dozens of bottles throughout the house, use once, toss into a landfill. And I’m not talking about one container per “wash-station”–there were three or four. In the bathrooms there were maybe as many as 15 or 20 containers. Each with a limited life, each destined for a landfill.

I took a shower and had to use a bottle of body wash that was sort of gummy and actually not useful to me–certainly not as easy or useful as a freakin bar of soap would have been. And of course, when you get near the bottom, the container is even more irritating since the goo inside moves so dang slowly, so out it goes and in comes the new replacement: another plastic container of goo.

People: bars of soap have worked really well for so long, really! They’re simple, and once used, they don’t go in a landfill. There’s every flavor, scent, texture, what have you. So I’m wondering: what’s with the containers of goo? How have you been sold on the idea that those plastic containers are better than a bar of soap?

The generation coming up? This is the plastic generation, the full flower of Mr. Maguire’s vision from the 60’s.

Oh, the humanity!

Gayle Chong Kwan Plastic Bottle City

Gayle Chong Kwan Plastic Bottle City

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