Lying awake in bed, struggling to fend off sleep for a few more minutes so I could finish the chapter of the book I was reading, my eyes caught a glimmer of light from the nightstand. Diverted from my reading I looked over to see what it might be, and there it was. A small plastic packet no larger than a single-use toothpaste sample pack. It was white, compact, informative, and yet . . . mysterious. I picked it up to get a better look. In the center of the packet was a clear, flowerlike design that afforded the slightest glimpse of the packet’s contents. On top of this design was printed but a single word: Cleanpak. I flipped the packet over several times; observing the cleanliness of the pure white plastic, the clarity of the letters, and the sharpness of the designs. From what I could observe this was in fact a clean pack. But the truth was I had only engaged the packet with two of my senses. I would need more data before reaching an informed assessment of this item.

I lifted the packet to my nose and inhaled deeply . . . not the slightest scent! It didn’t smell of manufactured plastic, nor give the slightest hint as to what contents it so adeptly concealed. Next I crinkled it in my fingers and was rewarded with a crisp crackle, satisfying like an unopened bag of chips, but cleaner, like an unopened sample pack of granulated laundry detergent.

There was only one thing left to do before reaching a conclusion on this mysterious “Cleanpak”; I had to taste it. I drew the packet towards my mouth, unsure of what might come next, but hopeful that my taste buds would be met with the same standard of cleanly excellence the rest of my senses had experienced. But before the packet reached my mouth I caught sight of three bold blue words: DO NOT EAT. I pulled the packet back to reflect on this new piece of information. Observing my actions my wife chimed in, “don’t do it!” I tried to the best of my ability to detach myself from the situation so as to get a better vantage point from which to assess the data that was in front of me. The warning clearly said DO NOT EAT. My first thought was that I should adhere to the warning and skip the tasting part. But then it occurred to me that, in fact, it said DO NOT EAT and not DO NOT TASTE or DO NOT PUT IN MOUTH. These were very different warnings, and it was by no means clear that the second and third were encompassed by the first. It was more than likely that the reason for the warning had nothing at all to do with the Cleanpak and everything to do with the contents housed inside.

With renewed confidence I lifted the packet to my mouth and licked it . . . my taste buds were met with pure, unadulterated tastelessness. I put it into my mouth to be sure; rolling it around, and even sucking on it. The Cleanpak was impeccable.

Having completed my assessment I looked over the packet, observing each of its labels and markings. It had many languages printed on it suggesting that the company was international. It also had four warning pictures which seemed incomprehensible to me until I looked at it at just the right angle, and then . . . I had been right! The picture was of someone pouring the contents of the packet into their mouth. The packet was harmless, it was the contents that were toxic.

I must say that my curiosity was still peaked. What was this Cleanpak for? At first I thought it was made to de-moisturize a packaged goods; maybe for vitamin bottles or something of the sort. But the plastic was clearly impenetrable, meaning even if there were de-moisturizing beads inside they would have no way of doing their job. I was stumped. It was clearly an inquiry that would take some serious research. So I pulled out my phone and googled “Cleanpak.” The company’s website made it clear that they were the world’s best at packaging any and all chemicals from any corporation who had chemical packaging needs. But it was mysteriously vague about what kind of chemicals they typically dealt with and why such chemicals needed packing, but they were clear on the fact that they would pack it and pack it well.

I will not bore you with the minutia of those hours I spent that night unraveling the rich and dark tapestry that is the multinational Cleanpak Corporation. Rather I will summarize my findings, beginning with a childhood image and expounding upon it until it becomes crystal clear just how effectively Cleanpak has cleaned up the image of international corporations.

Think back to the early nineties, to every Green Party member’s favorite television show for their children. I’m talking about Captain Planet. If you remember, the introduction portrayed the evil capitalists as pigs who dumped their corporations’ toxic waste into the ocean like it was fish food. As children we watched such behavior and were disgusted, “Capitalist Pigs!” We would cry out, in a state of indignation. And who could argue? They were in fact pigs! To us it was just a kid’s show, creating good guys and bad guys in black and white fashion like most kid’s shows do. But what about the real capitalists who were now perceived, at least subconsciously, as waste dumping pigs? The waste dumping part was true, but now it was synonymous with “pig” which was quite problematic. The solution? Clean up the waste dumping, clean up the “pig.” And thus the niche market of corporate toxic waste disposal came to be.

Enter an average man in his late 30’s; feeling too old to go through college and pursue a career from scratch, yet too young to step into a monotonous job that would carry him through to retirement. He was not a bad man, nor a good man; rather he was a man that had no moral compass, and had not put much thought into getting a compass because he was completely uncertain of which direction he wished to go. Call it coincidence, call it fate, call it providence- however one might explain it two pieces of information came together that day that would change this rudderless man forever. That morning he pulled his daily multivitamin bottle out of the cupboard, opened it, and without looking dumped what he thought was a pill into his hand. But it was not a pill, it was a de-moisturizing packet. He looked at the packet and was disgusted by the sight of a brown-grey discoloration infecting its entire surface. Those packets always made the pill bottle seem so dirty, so contaminated.

He set the pill bottle down and turned his attention back to watching the morning news. The segment was on a multinational corporation that had been caught disposing of their toxic waste in third world countries. The camera panned miles and miles of wasteland, desolate from the toxins the corporation had dumped. The piece went on to talk about the great expenses of toxic waste disposal yet how it was a moral imperative that such corporations take on these expenses for the good of the planet. Moral imperative! There’s an idea that won’t sell! He muttered to himself. One year later this man with no compass and a single coincidental idea was a multimillionaire.

And now we reach the point in this single night of investigation where everything comes together; from me putting that seemingly harmless packet into my mouth to Captain Planet to a man without a compass becoming rich overnight. You see what that man did was go to these multinational corporations and offer them a solution to their problem; they would pay him, he would take care of their waste, their image would be cleaned up, he would be rich, and they would no longer be seen as capitalist pigs. The corporations agreed and this man suddenly had a bundle of money and a very large pile of waste on his hands. Next he searched for any companies that were struggling to stay afloat whose products required de-moisturizers. He went to those companies with a proposition: the Cleanpak. It was the same size as the de-moisturizers they were using, but it was plastic, impenetrable. “If you use this instead of what you’re using, you cut all your de-moisturizing costs, and we pay you for using our product.” It was, as they say, an offer they couldn’t refuse. That now rich man created a package that was a resplendent white, with warning labels galore. It was clean, it was stylish, and it never got that disgusting discoloration. In fact the packaging was so damn good that some of these struggling companies even had customers sending them letters about how cool the new de-moisturizing packets were. It was so brilliant that no one ever thought to open up the packets to see what was inside and no one ever thought about the fact that the plastic was impenetrable, clearly preventing the packet from functioning as a de-moisturizer. Tons of toxic waste disposed of each and every day. But there were no more pigs dumping waste into the ocean. Instead there were millions of these little Cleanpacks, dispersed to every continent in the world. It did not make for a better world, but it made the corporate world look a whole lot better.

I could be a whistleblower, usher in a Captain Planet-type crusade for the decade after the New Millennium. But I won’t. It’s a bit too much work, and to be honest, I’m far too impressed with this man without a compass to want to bring him down.

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