The Culture of Disposable

The problem with creating a culture around disposable products is that it creates a habit that is really freaking hard to break. We aren’t addicted to the packaging per se, but we also can’t shake it either. In this day and age, it takes work to eliminate plastic crap from our daily lives…like, physical and mental work that makes dieting and exercise look like a cake walk. (Is that a pun or just a bad joke? Neither? Hm…)

So when an entire country votes to ban a major source of this disposable lifestyle; of COURSE we get psyched! More awareness about the problem, less use of stupid, single-use plastic crap, and less stress over eating out and grocery shopping (plus win win for the planet!) Victory at last?

But then I read this and sort of lose it:

The Associated Press reports that France has enacted a ban on all plastic dishes, cups, and utensils. The ban goes into effect in 2020, after which all disposable utensils and dishes must be made of biological, rather than petroleum-based, material.

Let me preface this rant by saying that I think it’s amazing, truly, that France has declared this kind of ban (even if it doesn’t go into effect for 4 more years. Sigh.) The fact that an issue like this is gaining political traction is amazing and only speaks to how much more aware we are as humans that we are finally realizing our impact on this planet and want to take action to fix our mistakes.

So why create bandaid legislation? Why not attack the issue of waste and our culture of disposables head-on, instead of saying “no” to plastics but “yes” to something that walks, talks, and perpetuate the idea of plastic? Have we really ventured too far down the rabbit hole of single-use that this is the best solution?

Having no idea what went into this decision or how many plastic industry reps are fighting this, I can’t speculate on the whys or how’s and I realize that in me crying out for stronger legislation, I’m labeling myself some kind of idealist. Fine, I’ll take that on but man-oh-man, am I ever tired of this consumer culture. We need to evolve beyond using something for 5 minutes just to throw it away and never see it again. Plastic forks are seriously getting old. This is 2016, people!!

Where’s the plastic? Oh right…its’s 2016!

So we switch to compostable forks and cups. Great! At this point are there actually viable products on the market that can be mass-produced at low costs that will actually break down in a compost heap? Like a regular Joe-shmo pile? If not, then are we creating more problems for ourselves?

This ban leaves me with some hope and optimism but in the end, more questions (clearly). I want to live in a world that relies less on the concept of single-use…France, can ya help me out?

Consumptive Vacation

Why is it that we always seem to assume the worst in people? We plan for a mess and then create more of a mess in the process. I’m speaking this time of the wastefulness of outdoor bars and restaurants. At some point (and I haven’t done a ton of research so can’t point to an exact year or decade) bar owners thought that combining outdoor establishments with alcohol in glass vessels wasn’t a good idea and with good reason, I suppose. Patrons break glass, other patrons step on broken glass, lawsuits abound. Or, people steal the glassware. Or it falls into the ocean/waterway next to the bar. The solution? Make everything plastic. That way, we can throw everything away (easy cleanup), there’s no risk of breakage (no pissed off customers) and if it blows away? It’s not our problem anymore! Right?

At an outdoor bar yesterday, I and my friends gathered for a few drinks. It was situated on a marina (outdoors + water = recipe for plastic haven), but it had a nice, classy vibe so I thought maybe we’d luck out and avoid the plastic. Not so. We were immediately presented with these #5 (polypropylene, e.g. Tupperware) cups, complete with a plastic straw. The interesting thing about these cups was that they were actually designed to be reused (on the bottom of the cup: “Top rack dishwasher safe”)! This seemed pretty cool to me; a halfway solution to the plastic-bar-cup dilemma. “Hey, if we’re going to use plastic, let’s at least wash the cups and reuse ’em!”

Missed opportunity to class a place up and help the environment.
Missed opportunity to class a place up and help the environment.

Naturally, we became curious: did the restaurant intend to use the cups for their designated purpose? After watching a bartender chuck a #1 (PET) cup that had previously held water straight into the trash, I was having second thoughts, but we decided to proceed anyway and flagged the bartender down to ask. To our dismay, it turned out that this place didn’t reuse the cups. In fact, they didn’t even recycle them. Nope, everything got thrown away after one use. GAH!

On a purely monetary level, how is it even cheaper to buy endless sleeves of #5 cups when you could also invest in a set of pint glasses to wash and reuse again and again? In our attempts to avoid disaster, we choose a product that ends up being a disaster further on down the line and in the process, waste so many resources. Plus, we create this system where we assume humans can’t handle something breakable. I realize sometimes we all get a little crazy and thing break, but to just blindly categorize all people drinking as dangerous is unfair and stupid. Give us the benefit of the doubt. Let us make mistakes and break a glass so we know not to do it again. By giving us plastic, you’re letting us continue with our wasteful ways and there is no reprimand.

The worst part? Nobody seems to think this is a big deal. How do we change this perspective? I think the first step might be to hash it out with Skipper’s Dockside Key Largo but there are countless places like this in the world. Any other solutions out there?

Ban the Foam, Maine Edition

What happens when you eat ice cream too late in the evening? Well…blogging happens. This post is just shy of a month overdue, so I guess it was high-time for a sugar-fueled session. Here we go…

Recently, I joined up with the Surfrider Foundation, but more specifically, the Maine Chapter. Surfrider has many campaigns aimed at protecting one of nature’s best playgrounds (the ocean) but the one I most closely identify with is their Rise Above Plastics (RAP) campaign. It’s through this that a lot of bag bans and ordinances surrounding legislation targeted at reducing single-use plastics happen. For anyone who follows these bans across the country, you might recall seeing blips from the state of Maine, as we attempt to ban EPS. What’s EPS? In simple terms: Expanded Polystyrene. The ban that the city of Portland, Maine is considering taking up aims to ban only EPS foam food packaging. Remember that time you got Thai takeout and it came swaddled in squeaky white clam shells? Yeah, that stuff. It’s an ugly pice of litter, it gets into our oceans and wrecks havoc on the marine environment. For those that read my “Photo Seen Round the World” post, you might have noticed a small piece of styrofoam amongst all the contents on that tray…even on Midway Atoll, we find EPS. Problem? You betcha.

And so it was that on September 16, the City Council of Portland, Maine heard public comment on this proposed ordinance. I, along with fellow Surfrider members, attended the meeting to lend our voice in favor of the ban. This was my first foray into the world of politics and public hearings and what I found that evening sort of surprised me. I was told two things before the meeting: 1) there would be lots of lobbyists there, doing a lot of pandering and 2) despite that, most of the council seemed to be in favor of the ban and it was probably going to pass.

Thinking that this was going to be a cake walk, I crafted my 3-minute public statement to the council with Midway on my mind. I talked about how EPS is an outdated packaging material and that recycling it is a futile effort. I shared my Midway story and told the Council members about the albatross being affected by our trash in the middle of nowhere. It was a very nice bit of writing…but it didn’t really resonate with any of the council members. Maybe I spoke too soon, allowing too many lobbyists to speak after me, but mostly, I think what spoke very loudly that night were two things: money and economics.

Herein lies the lesson, and the rub. First, the rub: I am, first and foremost, all about the environment. This is the reason I joined up with Surfrider in the first place and what I focus on in my anti-plastic pollution advocacy. However, there is a large percentage of the population that does not think this way, and this is what I learned that night at the hearing. People want to know how things will affect them, their business, and the economy…back to money and economics. The message driven home, loud and clear, was that if you really want to get a council-member’s attention, you have to mention those things. Of course, we don’t need to all turn into smooth-talking lobbyists, no, no, no…but we have to get on the level.

Something I heard repeatedly that night from the lobbyists and small business representatives in the room was that switching from EPS to alternative packaging would be too expensive. And yet, only one person who testified in favor of the ban gave any evidence that alternative, cost-effective packaging even existed. This is the problem! The small businesses who oppose this ban don’t want it to happen because they maybe aren’t aware of the alternatives, and have been told by industry lobbyists that switching would be disastrous for business. We can talk about the impacts of EPS on the environment until we’re blue in the face, but until we give this group actual alternatives and hard numbers as evidence, we might as well be shouting into the breeze.

Lobbyists are really good at convincing pretty much anyone that their product is just fine and all we need are more recycling programs. They are smooth talkers and when they outnumber those in favor of any legislation that would ban their product, their voice is suddenly the loudest and most heard. What happens then is that a group of council members who are no longer sure an EPS ban is what the City of Portland needs sends the legislation back to committee for further review…at least, this was the case in Portland, that night.

So as advocates of a plastic-free lifestyle, what do we do? We all care about the environment and the well-being of ourselves and future generations and we shouldn’t have to sacrifice that message. What if we crafted our messages in a way that addressed all of these things? After the hearing last month, it became clear to me that as advocates, we can do a better job. It’s not enough to give a statement to the city council on why we think a ban is necessary. We need to be talking to those opposed and figure out how to solve these issues. Only when we take that next step can change really happen.

Surfrider Foundation Maine Chapter

Sick. Twisted.

Sometime in the not-too-distant past, I watched a clip from the documentary “Earthlings”. I never got to the whole movie, mostly because after watching the trailer, I had seen enough. I felt sick, disgusted, sad, angry, light-headed… it was pretty bad. I’m by no means a fanatic, but it’s hard not to get upset when you see animals being abused. Maybe it’s because we as a society shelter ourselves from seeing that stuff, so when we actually come face to face with the content in Earthlings and Food, Inc and all those other exposé documentaries, we squirm. It’s uncomfortable, seeing the truth.

Well, I hadn’t felt like that in a while. Then, Midway happened. And then…I saw this:

This video was uploaded to YouTube almost 3 years ago and you’ve probably already seen it. But in case you haven’t, feel free to take a gander. I won’t spoil it for you.

Done? Ok, cool. Now…what the f***? First of all, I’m just going to throw this out there…why didn’t the person filming stop the gull? All it takes is a good shout and running around like a crazy person to get a gull moving. But no…thanks to him, we get to witness 5 minutes of a Lesser Black-Backed Gull choke down our trash. This is seriously, seriously twisted stuff. I’m grossed out. Are you?

Deep breath. Stay positive. We’ve just watched something really terrible, made all the worse with the knowledge that this isn’t an uncommon occurrence. This happens a lot, all over the place. It’s not just albatross, or sea turtles, or whales. Plastic is everywhere. Time to do something about that. Why don’t we be proactive? Let’s not let the gull get that far in his munching. Instead of watching, take part. Pick up. Throw out. Refuse in the first place. Simple, simple little things. It’s so easy. Come on, people. This is getting a bit ridiculous.

Straws SUCK…No Really, They Do.

GOOD…what were you thinking?

Sometimes I forget that there are still a ton of people out there who don’t realize how wasteful single-use plastic items are. So first, a brief thanks to you, GOOD, for grounding me a bit and for giving me fodder to write this post.

First, if you haven’t yet, please read (in full) this editorial from GOOD writer Sarah Laskow, entitled “London Restaurants Shame Drinkers Into Saying No To Plastic Straws.”

Here’s where I get frustrated:

“But smart consumers know that the truly sustainable choices are the ones that would have the largest impact if everyone made them—living in smaller spaces, using less energy to heat and cool those spaces, eating less meat, and using less gas to get around.”

Yes, big issues like climate change, dietary preferences and sustainable development are all real and pressing issues that need attention…but since when have greenies started ranking environmentally conscious choices? Plastic is an issue too: it’s made in factories powered by fossil fuels and it turns out, is actually composed of those same fossil fuels. There’s the link to climate change. Single-use plastic doesn’t biodegrade and it perpetuates in the environment for years. It gets into the food chain, it attracts toxic chemicals, it itself is toxic. There’s the dietary connection. Nothing about plastic straws (or bags, bottles and utensils, for that matter) is sustainable, logical or healthy. It’s a big problem that’s only getting bigger.

To say that this issue – of plastic straw usage – is trivial and something for people to latch on to “feel green” is absurd. Why is our crusade to fight against unnecessary plastic pollution deemed “silly”? Did the writer stop to consider that there are real people (right here, here and here) behind these anti-plastics campaign that really, truly believe that this is a cause worth fighting for? I’m not so sure, because if she did, this article probably wouldn’t have been posted.

For a person who is already using a refillable water bottle and who says “no” to plastic bags, saying “no” to plastic straws might be their way of taking another step in the green direction, and that’s awesome. Contrary to what this article tries to sell, small changes really can add up. Small steps are what help people gain the confidence they need to start making those bigger changes. Ask anyone.

I can totally understand how this looks: “Oh, another cause to join…” but hey, pick what you want and what you know you can accomplish. Personally, asking for my drink with “no straw, please” just became second nature. I saw what was out there in the Pacific Ocean (yes, it was plastic and no, it wasn’t pretty) and decided to make a change. For some people, they come to the realization that meat production is unsustainable and against their morals so they stop eating it. We should be celebrating the fact that more and more of these environmentally aware campaigns are coming to light because it means that many more people are seeing the light and taking action.

Sure, some people will buy straws and forget to use them but that happens with any “cause.” People will come around, you just have to give them a chance. And they’ll come around faster if we have more legislation like what the city of London is proposing: no straws unless you ask. My guess is that most customers won’t even realize their straw is missing. Success.

Solutions Aplenty!

What’s sort of hilarious about this is that all the people in this argument are on the same side. We all think climate change is real, that it’s happening now and that we need to do something in a BIG way. We probably also all think that factory farming is beyond stupid and that over-fishing is pure and total insanity. Refusing single-use plastics is just another step in the process towards a more sustainable future for ourselves and for those that come after us.

Think twice before you bash us plastic-fighting folk. We’re a feisty bunch.

And as a PS…my cashew cream smoothie tonight would definitely not be as slurp-a-licious if it weren’t for my beautiful, reusable and sustainable Glass Dharma straw. Booyah.

Take-Out Cups: A Meditation on Waste

Readers, I need to blow off some steam, so pardon the following rant. I’m hoping some of you can empathize:

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen what trash does when it gets out of your garbage can and into a part of the world where people rarely are. I’ve seen the waste problem and it cannot be unseen. It’s like I have these glasses on, not the rose colored ones, but a kind that make it so I cannot NOT see and observe waste.

Mahi Mahi - caught with a fragmented plastic grid in its throat.

What is waste? Waste is anything that is not essential, something extra that serves no purpose. Waste is something that is used for 5 minutes and thrown away, yet is made of materials that will far outlive its usefulness.

What am I getting at, exactly? Well, it’s something we all know and most definitely have all used:

The to-go coffee cup.

Is this really necessary?

Yeah, that thing. That small, seemingly innocuous little cup. Nobody thinks about it. They think, “I need coffee. I need tea. I need a venti-soy-no-whip caramel macchiato and I need it now or I will drive this car off the road.” To most people, this cup is just a means of getting them a jolt of caffeine and the thought of throwing this plastic-coated paper cup and plastic lid in the garbage isn’t a big deal. In fact, it’s usually a non-issue. People buy their coffee, they drink said coffee and then maybe it registers somewhere in their subconscious that they have to throw this cup in the garbage. That last part isn’t really a conscious thought though. It’s just what you do when you’re done using a cup…you throw it away. Chain reaction, satisfaction guaranteed, no guilty conscious.

But what if people thought about that cup in a different way? What if people were exposed to what a coffee cup really is? What if their thought process went like this:

“I need coffee. I need tea. I need a venti-soy-no-whip caramel macchiato and I need it now or I will definitely drive this car off a cliff. But wait just a second here. You mean to tell me this coffee cup is coated with plastic? Like…even if I make SURE it finds a home in the nearest garbage can it probably still won’t break down? Because it’s going to a landfill, where nothing breaks down? And what’s that? The lid that I sip my delicious life-blood out of is made of a material that wasn’t designed to break down quickly, in any sort of environment? So what you’re telling me is that this coffee cup is basically going to outlive me…and I only used it for 10 minutes. Uh…what?”

It's plastic...but you can't recycle it! What gives?!

So my goal with this post is to 1) rant a little bit but mostly to 2) meditate on the idea of waste in an item as simple as a coffee cup.

Hopefully people reading this might think, “Wow, that is crazy…” and the next time you get coffee, you’ll think about your coffee cup a little differently. If you already think this way…I raise my cup to you!

Yes, there will be a few who will read this and ten minutes later they’re craving a caramel macchiato and they forget all about this notion of “waste”. They’ll continue to go about their daily lives with no real thought as to what they’re consuming. That’s not really acceptable, but it’s OK…because these are the people I will continue to fight for and try my hardest to educate. Sooner or later, they’ll have to wake up and smell the coffee.

Beautiful, functional options that save us many dollars. 🙂