Tuesday, January 17, 2017

MID-CENTURY CONTAINERS -- PART 8 (THE GARBAGE)



“The age of plastics,” they used to say, but as I tried to research the phrase, I discovered the information highway clogged with info about some recording of that title.

My parents at the outdoor fireplace c. 1950
Even as we began to hear “the age of plastics,” my dad called it the age of paper due to the amount of junk mail he carried into the house. “And this doesn’t count what I toss in the bin at the post office,” he said. Even so, there was no denying the explosion in the plastics industry. Plastic was replacing metal in everything from toys to cars and machinery, regardless of whether it was a good idea or not. With the increasing use of plastic in our manufactured goods, quality and durability were compromised.

I don’t remember when I first heard that plastic was a threat to the environment and our health. It was probably the ‘80s when the garbage service in Orofino insisted that patrons pack their garbage in those big black plastic bags, touting them as “eco-friendly.” Sister Harriet took issue. “THEY ARE NOT ECO-FRIENDLY,” she protested.

In my youth, we separated the trash from the garbage and burned the trash in the outdoor fireplace. And when I asked Mike, who grew up in the South, what he remembered about mid-century garbage management, he said, “Everybody had a burn bin.”  

In addition, at the house of my youth, an old enamel pail was stashed under the kitchen sink as our garbage receptacle. It was lined with a brown paper sack which became soggy with wet garbage. (This was the pre-garbage-disposer era.) The garbage was a source of odor in the kitchen and demanded a watchful eye (or should that be nose?).

I can honestly say that I hated that garbage pail, even though I was seldom forced to deal with it directly. Now, I am not a fastidious housewife. I’m a hopeless clutterer and Mike is dusting even as I write, but garbage is not allowed to linger long in my house.

Back in the ‘50s, I remember making trips to the old dump with my dad. We turned in where the Orofino Builders Supply is located today and followed a bumpy, unpaved road westward along the Clearwater River, past the railroad depot, to the dump. A scruffy old guy would come out of a shack to greet us. Fires smoldered there on the river bank.

We are no longer encouraged to burn our “burnables,” I suppose because smoke contaminates our environment. Everything goes to the landfill, unless we recycle. In our community, the recycling program is voluntary, and unfortunately the county officials don’t warmly embrace the concept. In fact, last year they ceased accepting plastics and cans for recycling. If we want to recycle those, we have to carry them to the program in the neighboring county.

Now in Seattle, it’s a different story. They have mandatory recycling and can be fined if recyclables are tossed in with the garbage. That means, of course, that “big brother” checks your garbage. I know of one couple (not my family) who saw this as an invasion of privacy and were glad to move to another state. KW

Sunday, January 15, 2017

MID-CENTURY CONTAINERS -- PART 7 (LIQUIDS)



“Perhaps you shouldn’t re-use that container,” I said to Mike as he prepared a packable beverage for his hunting excursion. Mike likes nothing better than to re-use, and those Langer’s plastic juice containers are a handy size and seal well. (They’re just darn cute! I like them.)

“Why?” he asked. “Is it a carcinogen?”
“Apparently,” I replied.
“Then, should we use them in the first place?” he asked.
“My point exactly,” I responded.

A variety of liquid containers -- furthest right is cardboard
More than a decade ago, I began to hear warnings about the use of plastics for food storage, including the re-use of plastic packaging. Tupperware was really bad, they said. Never re-warm your food in any plastic container. And the worst offender was the 16-ounce container in which water is sold. Never re-use them. And to make matters worse, they aren’t recyclable either – at least not in our community.

Apparently, though, the water bottling industry is alive and well. Have we altered the packaging? One website suggests that any alteration to the plastic formula has only made the dangers worse.

Hallie asked about buying bottled water in the opening post. I can hear my grandmothers scoffing. Water was one commodity that was free to all. (Of course, they trusted in the safety of river, creek, and spring water.) Bottled drinking water is a relatively recent development. Even if you think of me as “grandma,” in my day we didn’t buy water or even carry it around. In class, we were expected to make it through the hour without water, thirsty or not.

Kathy at six -- in my gutsy days
I so remember that day in first grade when my teacher, Mrs. Bonner, announced that we could no longer get a drink during class. I didn’t take her seriously, or I forgot. I got up, got a drink from the fountain, and the next thing I knew she had unceremoniously – or maybe it was ceremoniously – placed me on a chair in the corner with my back to the class to ponder the error of my ways. (It was not the only time I sat in the corner, by the way.)

Yes, it’s true. If you were thirsty – tough. This was probably good training for adult life where the expectation was that a person could sit through meetings without drinking water, going to the restroom, etc.

Today bottled water is accepted most everywhere. People carry them around – or sometimes they’re provided. In fact, you can find patterns online for crocheted water bottle carriers. Last year I made such a carrier so that I could carry water for the dogs during the heat of summer. (Writing during a cold winter, I wonder if it will ever be hot again.) So, yes, I hypocritically re-use a water bottle, but I figure it won’t hurt the dogs.

But, I digress. As a people, do we heed those warnings against plastic use and re-use? Are the warnings fair, or are they bogus? If you became ill, would your medical professionals tell you that you suffer from “xyz” disease because you used plastic? I don’t think so. But still, is enough being done to protect the consumer? KW

Friday, January 13, 2017

MID-CENTURY CONTAINERS -- PART 6 (PLASTIC PROBLEMS)


Did I ever tell you about Sukey, my old doll? I don’t think so. I wrote a post about her which I subsequently discarded as too sentimental, and now here we are discussing plastics, a perfect focus for that essay.

Kathy & Sukey -- a big doll
Let’s say Sukey came at Christmas 1952. Manufactured by Horsman, she was a big baby doll – 25 inches tall. Until a couple of months ago, I still had her, but in my world today, she represented outgrown interests. (I haven’t outgrown all doll interests – just some of them.) I was sentimental about her because I don’t remember when I didn’t have her and because Mother made more clothes for her than any of my other dolls. I set her in the little white wicker chair, a gift from Hallie, and when months later I picked her up, her legs pulled the white paint right off the chair! I also discovered that her cute little dress was sticking to her. She was decidedly tacky, but rather than make an immediate decision, I covered the seat of the chair with a washcloth and set her down again.

Kathy -- opening a can
 Naturally, I researched this issue online and discovered that mid-century vinyl breaks down and becomes tacky. You can clean it, but it will just keep happening. As I prepared to clean Sukey, I wondered why I would go to the trouble. She showed signs of having lived a rough life at the hands of a small girl. She should have been tossed years ago. Now was the time to part with her.

First, I put her in the shed, and she stayed there several months. Then, early one quiet Thursday morning – before garbage pick-up – I tucked her into the garbage can and listened for the truck to come. It was all over within 20 minutes. She was gone.

Actually, my "Nina Ballerina" has the same tacky affliction, but she lucked out. While her head is vinyl, her body is hard plastic, and she fits nicely into the collection of 18-inch dolls. I gently washed her face, which reduced the stickiness. She will probably need more attention as she gets older.

Nina Ballerina -- vinyl head
So, this same tackiness can be noted in other vintage plastics, such as Tupperware. It breaks down -- even smells -- and we shouldn’t use it for food storage or anything else. Perhaps this breakdown happens before we even realize it, and we should never use plastic for food storage, even when it’s new. They say you shouldn't re-use those lightweight 16-ounce water bottles because of the immediate breakdown of the plastic, and if it breaks down immediately, should we use them in the first place? Also, they aren't recyclable -- at least not in my community.

But there’s some appeal in that vintage Tupperware anyway. I take mine to the rummage sale and it’s among the first items to sell. KW

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

MID-CENTURY CONTAINERS, PART 5 (NON-FOOD)




Joni -- Farrol Joan Walrath
Image result for DreneAnd yes, shampoo did come in glass bottles. Mother told me a story about sending young Joni (my half-sister) to the drugstore to buy a bottle of “Drene” shampoo (here). “Don’t drop it,” Mother warned as Joni left on her appointed errand. On the way home, she dropped it, and of course, the bottle broke. So, Mother gave Joni the money for another bottle and sent her back to the store. “Don’t drop it,” she admonished again. Yes, you guessed it. She dropped that bottle, too. Once again Mother gave Joni the money for yet another bottle of shampoo. This time she said, “Joni, hang onto it!” And this time Joni made it home with the shampoo. 
Kathy c. 1951
As an aside, Mother was particular about the kind of shampoo we used. She didn’t like White Rain, Prell – not even “beautiful hair Breck." “I don’t like how this shampoo leaves your hair,” she would say. Breck's full-page, highly visible advertising campaign  appealed to me, though. I rather wanted to be a Breck girl, but Mother was unyielding. I remember using a shampoo that came in a jar, its texture like that of Noxzema. (The name escapes me.) And then, of course, Noxzema came in that beautiful blue jar. 
Kathy, early 1950s
The downside to glass, as we all know, is that it's breakable. Drop it, and it's a miracle if it doesn’t break. And when it breaks, the product as well as the surrounding area is contaminated by pieces of glass in varying sizes, some tiny shards. You must not try to salvage your product and the area must be cleaned with care to avoid injury. I think this is a significant drawback.

I watch the old What’s My Line? series on YouTube, which led me to research one of their first sponsors, Jules Montenier, who in 1947 invented plastic packaging for his antiperspirant, Stopette, thus creating an explosive demand for plastic packaging in the cosmetic industry, according to Wikipedia (here).

[It took me a long time to find “Drene” online. I was spelling it incorrectly. And did you know that Breck is now owned by Dollar Tree (here)? Now I wonder about the value of the product. Maybe Mother was right. I think I'll check it out.] KW

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

MID-CENTURY PRODUCT CONTAINERS, PART 4




Hallie gave Nellie disposable bootees for Christmas
In the ‘50s, some foods, like cottage cheese, came in waxed cardboard containers, but as we moved toward the ‘60s, the container became plastic with a snap-on lid, perhaps less sturdy that today’s model. I remember a year when one cottage cheese manufacturer decorated the containers for use as Easter baskets.

I think pre-Tupperware, some folks re-used cottage cheese containers for food storage. An elderly friend still does. “Don’t you?” she pointedly asked me one day. “No,” I admitted, “it confuses me.” I could tell by the look on her face that she saw me as extravagant, but I stand my ground on this. A refrigerator full of re-used product containers is confusing, though I do keep a few on hand as expendables.

In my childhood, the milkman (Jack Delaney) delivered milk, cottage cheese, and other products from the local dairy. When the dairy closed, probably by 1960, it was the end of an era. Then we bought milk in cartons, and after that the plastic “bottles.”

Beautiful winter sunset
My dad bought cream in pint jars directly from a farmer. We returned the jars to the cream lady and also saved pint salad dressing jars for her. We bought farm-fresh eggs from the same lady, likewise returning the cartons and saving others for her that came our way. By the way, in my girlhood world, I knew nothing of sour cream and its uses. “Sour cream” meant my dad’s cream had spoiled. And yogurt was a specialty item mentioned occasionally on television.

Shortening and coffee came in tin cans, and we re-used the can for all sorts of purposes, though I don’t remember using them for food storage. When we cleaned out the family home in 1991, we discovered a treasure trove of coffee cans in the basement. My dad had kept them because he knew coffee cans would one day be a thing of the past. I kept one or two of the older ones – out went the rest.

Finally making progress after multiple starts
Many products came in glass bottles or jars – ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, salad dressing, etc. And as Chris mentioned, cheese spreads came in jars which we then repurposed as juice glasses. Like the feed/flour sacks of yesteryear, the manufacturer (Kraft?) anticipated the re-use and made the jar pretty. Some designs were floral and others appealed to children. I remember Mother looking through the jars in an effort to match those she already had. Eventually the style of the jar was changed – probably for better sealing – so that the cap fitted over a lip, and the appeal as a juice glass disappeared. Consumers were disappointed.

I think peanut butter also came in re-usable glass, didn’t it? And I sorta remember that Welch’s grape jelly came in decorated jars, too, though my family made jelly and didn’t buy it. KW