Monday, January 28, 2008

An Ocean of Disposables, A Drop of ReUse

Office meetings are notorious trash generators. Catered food is provided on disposable trays; all the food items are individually packaged or wrapped, and all the utensils are plastic (called, in fact, "disposables") along with paper, plastic or styrofoam cups and plates. Water is bottled, soda is canned, and the napkins are paper. Folks generally take this for granted, since we have a national habit of not worrying about waste. A few die-hard eco-police types might bring a coffee mug, but that's about it.
Except if it's not it. Recently I was invited to a meeting called by PennFuture and the National Council of Churches global warming point people, to gather reps from different faith communities to learn what they are focusing on in the climate chaos arena. Our convener, Joy Bergey, emailed everyone in advance with marching orders: lunch would be organic catered food, delivered in a basket. Could we all please bring our own reusable plate, cloth napkin, glass, and "silver"ware? All fifteen people complied, and the only trash at the end of our meeting was saran wrap from the top of the basket of sandwiches, along with a few toothpicks which Joy promised to compost. No plates, caterer trays, cans, cups, or paper!
Perhaps faith-based climate change activists are more apt to follow instructions and care more about this all, but really - all it requires is a little forethought. Who doesn't have a plastic plate, a plastic mug, a cloth napkin, and a junky fork? Even plastic forks are easily reusable. A nice habit to cultivate, and a great example to set. It can be done. And IMHO, it's lots more aesthetic to use permanent objects. We had quite a fashion show of cloth napkins and colored plates! For a quick motivator to reduce our dependence on disposables, and learn just how much waste is generated by single-use items, check out The Story of Stuff.
Let's hear about efforts like this which have been successful in your communities, or the results of new efforts.

Pictured: Utensils-to-Go


Anonymous said...

Betsy, thanks for writing about this event. One more note to add as the organizer, if I may, regarding the sustainability of the meal: our food was not just primarily local and organic, but also vegetarian. A recent UN report show that fully 18 percent of all global warming emissions can be attributed to livestock, fishing, and the eating of meet. Because raising animal flesh takes so much more energy than raising grains directly for human consumption, and because the meat then has to be transported often long distances to market (which creates more emissions), the eating of meat leaves a very large carbon footprint indeed.

A suggestion, let's each modify our current food habits to drop meat from 3 meals a week. It could make a surprisingly large difference.

Jacob said...

I remember when I started bringing my own mug for the free coffee at the seminars. It felt a bit weird in the beginning (kinda like refusing to have groceries bagged at the supermarket) but now everybody seems to be doing it. We're moving in the right direction.