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?

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Lollapalooza 2011…and Plastic

Where did summer go? One minute I setting up a garden with my roommates, the next I’m staring at my now-defunct cucumber plants and watching as all the college kids come back into town. Shipyard Pumpkinhead is on the shelves at our local grocery store, so I suppose I had better accept my fate. Autumn is here to stay.

With that, I’ve got some updating to do! The last time you heard from me, I had happily discovered Bill Nye’s “Garbage” episode and was getting ready to head off on a multitude of August adventures. First up, Lollapalooza! This year, Grant Park saw its 20th Lollapalooza and I’ve got to hand it to the people in charge: they have this thing down. Music festivals, or any sort of festival for that matter tend to be full of waste and excess; it’s all about free stuff and convenience. Not so at Lollapalooza. Yes, there was free stuff and yes, I did get suckered into free things but there were definitely more positives in the waste department. Here’s a rundown:

  • Water Stations!

    Canned beverages: I.E. there was no sale of plastic water bottles…at all.

  • Tetra Pak water boxes (H2O) – more on this in a minute. I have mixed feelings.
  • CamelBak water stations throughout Grant Park. Camelbak was one of Lollapalooza’s leading sponsors this year and the water stations were such a lifesaver! Every other person walking by had one some sort of CamelBak pack and there were so many reusable water bottles everywhere that my heart did a little song and dance.
  • Loot!

    Rock & Recycle Campaign – this was the biggest and most pleasant surprise about Lollapalooza and pretty much won me over to attend the festival next year. It goes like this: concert goers stop by the “Rock & Recycle” tent. Volunteers at the festival hand us bags to fill with any and all recycling we can find and upon returning the full bags we will automatically receive a “free commemorative Lollapalooza T-Shirt made of organic bamboo/cotton blend by Five Bamboo.”  That’s it. Why is this

    Yum in a can.

    awesome, apart from guaranteed free, one-of-a-kind shirts? Just dragging a bag full of cans across the park was enough to inspire people to action, whether it was throwing cans and cardboard our way or asking us what we were doing and getting interested. When something is right in your face like that, people take notice…especially if they realize, “These returnables actually have value?! I want in!” Plus, everybody participated. I saw teenagers asking people waiting in line for cans and then I saw a couple that could have been my grandparents walking through the park, holding full bags. Totally inspiring!

  • Garbage & Recycling in Hyde Park

    Chicago itself was a very clean city. On our walks to and from the bus stop every day, we passed at least 3 or 4 sets of garbage/recycling bins just hanging along side the sidewalk. It’s always great to see public waste receptacles en mass because it just shows that the city cares…maybe they care about keeping their parks clean and beautiful, but regardless…props to you, Chicago. I will be back. 🙂

In general, this was an overwhelmingly awesome experience. Next year, more planning is definitely in order to ensure we see all the musical acts that are on our list. If you have a chance, GO because the experience is incomparable to any other music fest I’ve seen.

Of course, it wasn’t all good. So here are the two things that stuck in my mind as pretty annoying.

First: water. At Lollapallooza this year, instead of selling bottled water, this newfangled “water-in-a-box” was offered. If you’ve ever purchased boxed soup stock from the grocery store, or sipped on an individual-sized box of Silk chocolate soy milk, you are familiar with this packaging. It’s called aseptic packaging and is so named because of its ability to keep a product sterile and fresh for a long period of time, thereby extending its shelf-life.

Alternative to bottled water?

The concept behind h20, the brand responsible for all the boxed water at this event is that instead of having a plastic bottle house the water, you put the water in a box that is “fully recyclable”, saves natural resources and therefore benefits people and the earth at the same time. All of which are great ideas, in theory. In reality, Tetra Pak boxes are composed of many layers of plastic, paper and aluminum, so it’s not just “a box”, which makes them really hard to recycle. And so the debate continues…plastic water bottle, full of petroleum and a waste of $$/resources? Or Tetra Pak packaging, consisting of a multitude of different materials sandwiched together to house a substance that doesn’t need an extended shelf-life…any opinions from the peanut gallery?

The second annoying thing: while waiting in O’Hare for a delayed flight back to Boston, we went to Wolfgang Puck’s for dinner. The food was surprisingly delicious and the beer, Goose Island Honker’s Ale was refreshing. After our meal, the bartender collected our plates, took them back into the kitchen and…threw the beer bottles in the trash. I couldn’t move or speak, I was so upset. It was crazy to realize that there are still a lot of places where recycling isn’t commonplace. I took this as a motivator to keep educating people on waste management and conserving resources!

Next up: a rant. Get ready…