As you make your way around the city, look down. What do you see? These days, probably floss picks. These f-shaped plastic thingies, each housing a short length of dental floss, are everywhere. They’re meant to be disposable, floss-and-toss, and that’s exactly what people do with them. You see them scattered singly on sidewalks and in gutters, nestled in the grass at the park, dumped in ashtray-like batches of two or three dozen in parking lots. Each time I see one, which is often, some part of me pauses to appreciate the advance they represent in the art of doing one small thing to make the world just a little bit worse for everyone.
It’s a minor but meaningful achievement. Consider the philosophically rigorous accretion of selfishness in every discarded floss pick. First there’s the company that made it, which chose profit and landfills full of unnecessary plastic over the public good. Then there’s the person who dropped it, who did the math and decided that interdental stimulation and the convenience of letting an item drop from one’s nerveless fingers the second one is done with it clearly justify the incremental degradation of everyone else’s day. Not only do the rest of us have to kick our way through plastic crap on the ground, but we also get an unwanted reminder of other people prying gross stuff from between their teeth.