Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Zero waste - to go, please

If you have ever tried to decrease the waste in your life, you may have noticed how hard it is to reduce the amount of trash that you throw away. It's hard at home, but even harder if you go out and about - fast food and nice restaurants, grocery stores, public restrooms, and coffee shops all rely on cheap "disposable" packaging, utensils, and napkins that will most likely end up in an incinerator or landfill for a thousand years to come.

Not only does this ubiquitous trash clog up our landscapes and kill wildlife, the trash must first be created, using unseen tons of oil (for plastic), paper (from felled trees), and energy (carbon emissions!!). All for something used and thrown away in half an hour.

I recently ran across the idea for a Zero Waste Travel Kit in the Charleston City Paper, which sponsored a 2-week "Zero Waste Challenge". The idea of the Kit is to help people reduce their waste when they are out in public.

Recommended items in the Kit are:

•Refillable drink bottle and coffee mug
•Plate, bowl and utensils
•Cloth napkin
•Personal hand towel
•Reusable plastic container for leftovers/bulk items at store
•Mesh bag for produce
•Cloth grocery bags

I saw a couple of ladies use this idea at a recent Plan C meeting here in Oklahoma City. The meeting featured a potluck lunch made with locally made foods, but still - disposable plates and cups! I've noticed in the past that this is common even at environmental conferences - reducing waste just seems like an afterthought to the organizers, but it makes a big symbolic impression on the conference participants.

Anyway, many of the Plan C attendees (including myself), had brought refillable coffee mugs and water bottles, but one pair of ladies had gone the extra mile and brought their own plates, utensils and napkins for lunch. Now why didn't I think of that!

So today, I put together my Zero Waste Travel Kits (an ambitious name, I admit!).

The first kit will reside in my son's diaper bag - but would fit equally well in a mid-sized purse -and includes a small cloth bag and a hand towel. The hand towel is for drying off after washing your hands in public restrooms. Sweet! No more wasting energy with air blowers or killing trees with paper hand towels. Also - it won't matter if the restroom is OUT of hand towels, since you will have your own. The cloth bag is for all those times when you happen to need a few things from the store, but don't have your regular cloth bags with you.

The second kit will be in a bag in my car, (although maybe I should put it in my husband's car), and will have plates, silverware, Tupperware bowls, a reusable "To-go" box for taking home leftovers, coffee mug, cups, and napkins. It would also be good to have a rag to wipe down the plates and a Ziploc to put the rag/napkins in.

This kit is focused on reducing the restaurant trash you generate. Lots of fast food places always fix the meal with disposables. You can ask them to fix your food on the plate you've brought instead. OK, so maybe you look like the OCD guy from As Good As It Gets, but so what. Secondly, most restaurants give you To-Go boxes for your leftover food. Instead, just load up your leftovers in your own To-Go box - and no one even needs to know the difference. And finally, I bet you can guess what the coffee mug is for :).

You could also use this kit at whatever meetings, potlucks, environmental and peak oil conferences you may be attending. In fact, I call on all meeting and conference organizers to ask your attendees to bring their own ZW Kits (if you are not already using renewables, of course). Or - you could always sell a ZWK at the beginning of the conference with your logo emblazoned all over everything.

The third kit is just our set of 4 giant cloth bags, which we leave hanging by our garage door so we always remember them as we leave to get groceries. The cloth bags are stuffed with all our plastic bags that we get our produce in, which we re-use over and over - although some people buy/make special mesh bags, which is probably a better idea. If we had a Whole Foods or other place where we could get bulk items, we would include reusable containers in this kit as well.

I found all the items to make these ZWKs already laying around my house in about half an hour this morning. My husband may not appreciate my liberation of the 2 orange plates, but hopefully he just won't notice, and everything else was expendable. So, total cost for me: $0. If you don't have extra bags/plates/Tupperware/utensils/etc, they can be obtained cheap from garage sales or thrift shops.

Bon appetit!


EJ said...

But wouldn't it be better to just avoid places that serve food on disposables? The confernece idea is great!

Hausfrau said...

Indeed! OTOH, many local hole in the wall places have paper napkins and utensils. In fact, I don't think I've never been to a lunch-type sandwich or burrito place that had cloth napkins. And there's no place I know of that offers To-Go boxes that are not disposable. So, avoid McDonald's at all costs ;), but your Kit would still be helpful at most other places, especially when traveling.

SouthernQ said...

Thanks there are some really great suggestions in here! I love the kit, and wish people would even just remember to do one or two of these things like the refillable mug or cloth bag...

Thought you would like our website on the impact of fast food packaging on forests of the Southern US...


Lindab said...

The personal hand towel is a good idea - thanks for that tip. You get really compact micro-fibre ones that would easily go in a day pack or handbag. We already do the picnic plates and utensils in the car at all times, and cloth shopping bags for grocery shopping - my kids' school's young enterprise company produced some very sturdy, large, organic cotton bags which are ideal. It's fun to collect these bags from different places as 'alternative' holiday souvenirs - we have some very nice ones from France and Germany.

Chile said...

Great idea, Hausfrau. I often take some of those items with me haphazardly but like the idea of a "kit." Actually, I usually forget that we do have a kit of sorts in the car: 2 bowls, silverware, cloth napkins, a large knife, and a flexible cutting board. This allows you to drop by a grocery store and pick up fresh produce if you need a snack.

debra said...

every now and again my kids and i like to eat at our local Pho house. there's always so much soup left over and the to-go options are ...styrofoam and plastic wear. the last time we went i threw a thermos in the car. my mom had given it to me for christmas and at the time i couldnt imagine what i would use something that size for. it was perfect. it even comes with a set of utensils. to my kit, i also added a zipper bag and a stash of cloth wipes that i keep in one of those little make-up bags you get as a gift with purchase. the used wipe goes in the zipper bag then the whole things gets emptied into the washer. maybe a little overboard for some people, but if i'm going to replace paper napkins and paper towels, shouldnt i go all the way?