Posts tagged ‘bagless’

Evil Fast Food?

by Naomi Harris

So sometimes I forget and use a paper towel. I’ve given in to a few take out meals. I wouldn’t say I’m winning, but I would say it has not been terribly difficult. My habits have changed slightly, as I constantly have Tupperware in hand, and despite my addiction, I’ll choose to skip the coffee if I don’t have my mug with me. I am definitely more conscious of my actions. On some level this has been a personal reflection. On a different level, as other players have noted, it makes me see society in a different way: through the lens of disposable items. As I’ve thought about our society and our reliance on disposables, one of the most recognizable culprits is clearly the fast food restaurant. McDonalds, Burger King, Chipotle, Starbucks, places like Jamba Juice…the list goes on. These businesses are built on getting lots of people in and lots of people out with a paper bag, disposable wrapping, paper cup, and plastic silverware in hand. From the perspective of the No Impact Challenge, these businesses are evil. But we have to ask ourselves, how did they come to be and how are they such a dominant part of our culture?

The fast food industry and disposable items is kind of a chicken or the egg debate. Did the advent of disposable products facilitate the creation of the fast food chain, or did places like McDonalds exist in the first place and realize they could change their business model with the use of disposables?

The success of fast food chains comes from their ability to create standard items with speed and generate high volumes of sales. This volume would not be possible without the to-go aspect, dependent on the creation of trash. Yet, before we blame these businesses, we must inspect the interplay with our culture. Would fast food restaurants have become so successful without customers giving them business? No. For the suppliers to be successful, the demand has to be there as well. Now, I can’t claim to be telling you a factual historical story, but America (and many other countries) have come to rely on products that are fast, cheap, and easy. With fast paced lives and long workdays fast food restaurants fuel Americans, but we also fuel them.

I believe that the people starting these chains did so with no evil intentions, no real considerations of what massive amounts of trash they would be responsible for. In order to grow such huge businesses the owners had to be able to know what Americans would want, what items would be familiar enough to generate frequent sales. In fact,  80% of restaurants fail in their first year, meaning that the ones that succeeded got something right. And, while the older restaurants may have grown after the use of the disposable item, newer successes have been built around them.

I have my own gripes with Starbucks, but it is absolutely genius from a business perspective. Within a few years Starbucks stores were populating the country and millions of Americans were making grab and go quality coffee part of their daily routine. Think you are making a statement by rejecting starbucks and supporting your local coffee shop? Well the words cappuccino, latte, and macchiato would not even exist in our American vocabulary, let alone allow local coffee shops to make business off of them, if Starbucks had not made them familiar to the masses. Yes, I wholeheartedly advocate for supporting local business, and Starbucks has become a huge conglomerate, but maybe think twice about your criticisms before you make them.

While fast food chains built on high volume sales have shaped our culture and become an integral part of it, a movement has been growing against it. One group is the Slow Food Movement, countering fast food and the fast life style, and working to reinvigorate local food and farming. Additionally, there has been recent massive backlash against the fast food industry given the dirty side of undue farm subsidies, animal cruelty, and environmental destruction that allows for the industrial supply chains that keep these business alive. While these are separate from the issue of disposables, they are also one in the same: they perpetuate our culture of fast, cheap, and easy and ignore that the environment is bearing the real costs. Despite the ills of the industry, I will stand by my statement that all these businesses are not evil, and that as much as they exist for their profits, millions of people are thankful customers that happily give them these profits in return for a fast, cheap meal.

So, what does this mean for us and the merits of this challenge? I can cut down on my waste, but the food industry built on the use of disposable items is not going away any time soon. Throw away food containers are almost symbolic of the American life.  I would even claim that it is somewhat of a luxury to be able to take this challenge. I have the privilege of having a Whole Foods a block away where I can go and fill up my tupperware from the bulk section. I have the ability to pay a little extra and spend the time to cook my own meals rather than participating in the cultural practice of getting the most calories out of my  money with a fast food meal. Refusing bags is one thing, but taking down an entire industry integrated with the the way Americans eat is another. However, as with all societal change, it starts with the efforts of a few people, and it takes time. With recognition that fast cheap and easy for the masses is actually extremely costly to the environment, it is time for that change to happen in the food industry. To me, fast food restaurants that have made it will always be due some praise for their genius business models. Yet, like many great industries in the history of our country, they don’t need to be around forever.  Maybe in the future we can admire their past success, but proudly claim that the heyday of fast, cheap, and easy is over.

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April 15, 2011 at 1:57 pm 2 comments

Saying No to Norris

by Liz Derby

If there’s one thing Northwestern students love to do its complain …ahem…

Norris Center, the thing students complain about more than not getting into Harvard

use constructive criticism. Some students groan about the Chicago winters, while others whine about their hectic schedules, but at some point or another every NU student has taken aim at one place in particular on campus: Norris University Center.

Some harp on the student center’s less than ideal location while others comment on the cold slab-style architecture.  Even with improvements to the lower cafeteria level of Norris since I’ve been at Northwestern, the basement’s

Sbarro, one of the many places in Norris that serves food on disposable plates

cave-like qualities still leave something to be desired. But the most frustrating thing about Norris that I’ve noticed since the challenge began is that there is not one place that will serve you food on a reusable plate.

Being the overly involved Northwestern student that I am, Norris is like a second home. Lately, however, I have had to bid this second home adieu and walk back and forth from my apartment more times than I would like. Why? Because the points I would gain from grabbing a slice of Sbarro or a veggie burger to go aren’t worth it.  And, lets be frank, I have to eat at some point.

Its not only Norris, actually, but all campus venues, apart from the dining halls, that only serve food items in disposable containers or wrapping. If you live off-campus, as most juniors and seniors do, you most likely aren’t on a meal plan, thus have less access to dining halls. Of course any student could pay some outrageous amount to eat dinner at 1835 Hinman (a dining hall), but most resort to places like Norris instead out of convenience and price.

Part of the problem with changing the system is that Northwestern contracts out its food service to the notoriously hard to work with Sodexo. Students at NU have already butted heads with the company over paying campus workers higher wages and presumably, getting the company to change its practices on disposable food packaging would not be an easy battle. However, I think its something worth fighting for.

When I think of the waste I have avoided by eating at home rather than school, it makes me think about how much waste we would avoid as a university if everyone took on this challenge.  In a normal week I might have eaten lunch on campus 2-3 times, gotten coffee in a disposable cup 4-5 times, and bought dinner another 2-3 times. If you multiply that times 8,000 … its a pretty big number. I’m not saying that everyone is as much of a Norris

This is my plate, knife, and coffee mug I kept with me all weekend at the Roosevelt Equal Justice Conference

connoisseur as I am, but a lot of students are, not necessarily because they want to be wasteful, but because there aren’t a lot of other options.

This challenge has made me much more conscious of the impact of my actions. At first I had to make an effort to adjust my routine, but now many of these things have become habit. Like Zach, I’m always carrying around my coffee mug, a reusable bag, and some silverware. It was strange at first, but now making sure I’m prepared with tupperware is just as second nature as making sure I have my keys and wallet.

Just a note to anyone that does want to take on this challenge, we are currently accepting applicants for a May round of the No Impact Challenge. Email your name, a photo, and short 2-3 sentence bio to baglessNU@gmail.com if you want to play.

April 13, 2011 at 3:24 pm Leave a comment

It’s not easy being (sort of) green.

By Lisa Velkoff

I’ve always thought of myself as one of those people who was good to the environment. My family has always recycled, everything that we could: tin cans, plastic bottles and two-gallon milk containers, newspaper and cardboard, even paper bags and Ziplock baggies (I was that weird kid in elementary school who took home a brown lunch bag with empty baggies at the end of the day – my dad insisted on washing and re-using them until they got holes). For the four drivers in my family, we have three hybrid cars, and we had them before the Prius craze set in.

In high school, I decided to start being one of those healthy people who drinks water all the time. I’ll admit that at the beginning, I drank bottled water. I hadn’t yet bought a reusable water bottle! But even then, I’d take one bottle, fill it up at the water fountain multiple times during the day, possibly even keeping one bottle for multiple days. Empties would collect in my locker, waiting for me to remember to take them home to recycle (my high school didn’t have plastic recycling until my sophomore or junior year). Over spring break a few weeks ago, when my mom and I ran errands together and I consistently refused plastic bags, insisting on carrying an armful of toiletries or groceries through the Target parking lot, my mother called me the “plastic bag vigilante.” The point is, I always thought of myself as eco-friendly. I loved the planet and the planet loved me!

I see your trickery, Poland Spring. I'm no longer buying it that plastic is good!

Oh, how wrong I was. Even with all the sustainable things that I do already (I’m very attached to my bpa-free water bottle and ceramic travel mug, and I’ll still carry around plastic bottles until I find a recycling bin) the No Impact Challenge has made me think of all the waste I create on any day.

Each evening, I cringe as I record my points. Did I really take those two napkins today? How could I possibly dare to buy a Naked smoothie?! Even when I’m proud of myself for deciding against a cup of coffee because I don’t have my mug with me (good for my health and the environment!) or for remembering my reusable shopping bag, I wince every time I throw anything away.

At the beginning of the challenge, it seemed like the list of prohibited items was pretty exhaustive. The imposition on take-out containers and plastic utensils turned a movie night in the dorm with Joy Yee’s into a serious moral and ethical crisis for me. Since then, it’s been easier to avoid those things. “Oh, no thanks, I don’t need a bag.” Simple.

But what about everything else? Today, I spent two minutes before my psych class staring at my chapstick, wondering about the plastic tube. What about that? What about the reams of paper that are handed out in classes every day on this campus? What about that girl on my hall who seems to take hour-long showers every day? What about my insistence on using both a ceiling light and a floor lamp? What about the campus shuttles running so late into the night, often with only one passenger riding for just two stops?

To be totally impact-free would take a huge commitment, one that I’m honestly not ready to make. But at least I’m aware now of how not-green I am. Behavior change comes slowly – after these first 12 days of the challenge, I’ve finally stopped automatically grabbing those napkins. I’ve become an even more naggy plastic (and paper) bag vigilante – “You shouldn’t have taken that bag! You don’t need it! You’re going to re-use it, right? Right?!” So maybe once I’ve cut out the waste items covered by the challenge, I’ll be able to tackle other unsustainable habits, one by one.

My tip of the day? Watch people around you. Pay attention to how much waste they create. Go ahead, sit in Psych 110 and judge each and every person sitting there with a bottle of Coke. Give your best stinkface to all the CVS customers who walk out with their purchases in five bags, gallon of milk double-bagged. Then, think about the eye of the waste gods (or the plastic bag vigilante!) watching your every move. You’ll change your mind about how much you need that afternoon Mountain Dew.

April 12, 2011 at 7:39 pm Leave a comment

NUpcycle Episode 1: Coffee Cozy

That’s right! Upcycling. Check it out and be on the lookout for more like this in the future.

April 12, 2011 at 10:01 am Leave a comment

Confessions: Gum is my vice.

My name is Zach and these are the confessions of a consumer.

When the No Impact Challenge began, I was fine with sparing a point here or there without much thought. But, by the end of the day, I usually had a lot of points. It was always a surprise to me when I ended the day with 4 or 5. I don’t know why, but I thought I had been doing a good job. I was wrong.

For the past two days, I’ve come close to sealing the deal for my first NO IMPACT day. Both days I have failed.

I can smell victory in the air today, though. At lunch, I almost took a napkin but recoiled my hand with a triumphant smile at the last moment, remembering my goal to have no impact.

I may or may not have eaten my French fries with a fork to avoid needing a napkin for my greasy fingers. People may or may not have judged me. But I feel like I’m on top of the world.

Not really. But it’s nice to know that I’m making progress.

I’ve finally learned the tricks of the trade. And maybe, when somebody else sees me putting my Starbucks coffee in my own mug and asking the barista to put my scone in a Tupperware, they’ll catch on. Or at least care enough to ask what I’m doing. That’s what I hope for. I’m learning to live more sustainably and I think my competitors in the challenge and I can lead by example.

It’s quite possible to significantly cut down my impact. But I still struggle. A lot. I like chewing gum. What can I say? I won’t apologize. But I will be shamed.

Can I have no impact? Maybe on some days. I’ll get back to you. Perhaps I should try making my own gum. Let me know if you have a recipe.

 

 

 

 

April 11, 2011 at 12:50 pm 1 comment

A Matter of Choice

By Paul Bourdillon

I started this challenge with hope. I had the desire to not only win, but also prove its possible to live without unnecessary disposables without being crazy and living in the middle of nowhere off the grid. The first week disproved my first point, it certainly was not easy or convenient to avoid throwing away single use packaging. This weekend forever squashed my dreams of a big round 0 on the ‘waste’ scorebored at the end of the month. Both disastrous times when the scoreboard clocked one against the environment, I was shocked I had been lulled into such a false sense of security and disposed of precious resources without reason. First, I used toilet paper to deal with my shaving injuries and next I oh-so innocently chowed down on free wrapped candy. In both cases I found myself wondering what the impact was of my thoughtless choice, and where the line is between choosing to be unsustainable and merely acting as an innocent bystander.

Irresistible Treat?

(vancouveropera.blogspot.com)

I shave, occasionally at least. I even try to do so with as little waste as possible. I switched to a safety razor in hopes that its blades would be less wasteful (and much, much less costly). I am also eeking out the last of my canned shaving cream (throwing it away would be worse than using every last drop) and moving on to shaving soap as soon as I am done. Nonetheless, I never thought that the toilet paper I use to dry the nicks and cuts that I inevitably inflict upon myself. I don’t NEED to use it, I could merely let the cuts heal on their own. However, its not normally socially acceptable to have blood dripping down my neck from unbandaged cuts- something I generally consider a boon of civilization. It draws me to question when is the waste I produce no longer my choice but merely a decision made by society as a whole? Should I only shave at night so as to use no paper and not offend anyone, or would not shaving before work in the morning be frowned upon by my boss? Am I guilty if I see the little piece of foil in which my food is presented to me, or am I a repeat offender for failing to question the sources and packaging used behind the scenes?

No-Shave Sustainability?

Food brings me to my newest dilemma in choice – candy. I love candy. When I was a kid, I bought 20lbs of candy (I probably only weighed 80lbs myself) back from England to satisfy my cravings. Yet all candy seems to come in extensive wrapping, including the free candy I picked up at the Globemed Summit this weekend. It was set out in bowls in the hotel, individually wrapped – sanitary, one might breath as a sigh of relief. It was only when I looked down at the pile of wrappers that I recognized my sin, and I immediately tried to justify it and absolve myself of guilt. I didn’t purchase the candy, and it was bound to be eaten anyway. Besides, theres no way to eat candy without a wrapper so that doesn’t count. I guess I could save all the wrappers and upcycle a purse like that shown below, but I generally limit my purses to 0 and don’t need a new on for every 10 candy bars I eat. But it does count, both for fate of the environment and this challenge. Am I guilty of waste for eating the food that society provides for me, or can I only be free of environmental-sin by eating raw food at home that I purchased in a reusable bag at the bulk food section?

My New Accessory?


(keetsa.com)

When it comes down to it, if I choose to live a ‘normal’ life in American society then I have already given up the option to live a waste-free life – I am not moving to a raw-foods diet to save cooking gas anytime soon. I make the sustainable choices I can to reduce my environmental impact, but eating vegetarian or even scoring no points in a never-ending ‘no impact challenge’ will still leave me the the cloud of carbon used to power the computer I used to write this post. I view our goal in this challenge as getting us all to choose the most sustainable ways of living in our society while simultaneously forcing us to realize all the waste that is fundamental to our way of life. Recognizing that waste does not make a badge of shame; realizing the unconscious unsustainability of our society is a call to forge a better future. The ways we save during this challenge is a first step, and policies like Bagless NU are the next step to leaving the world as great for the next generation as it was given to us.

April 10, 2011 at 9:26 pm Leave a comment

Packaging and more packaging…

By:  Meghan Cavanaugh

Like most Sunday afternoons, today I went to the grocery store in order to purchase the items I will need for meals the following week.  This has been my first grocery outing since the beginning of the NoImpact Challenge.

Before leaving, I gathered my reusable bags and made note to not purchase any items sold individually in order to avoid gaining any points.  I began my shopping in the fresh produce section.  Instead of using the plastic bags, I placed all my fruits and vegetables in the cart naked.  I began walking the aisles.  Immediately I was much more aware of the immense amounts of packaging.  Cardboard wrapped in plastic, plastic wrapped in plastic, cardboard wrapped in plastic covered in cardboard; the insane amounts of packaging continued and continued as I walked through the store.  The walls of food packaging started caving in towards me with the overwhelming thoughts of all the single use casings.  I began to wonder, who really needs all of this packaging?  Are we really so paranoid as a population to contract some sort of bacteria or disease that we need to encase our food products like mummies?

As I approached the checkout line, not only did the ridiculous wrappings continue, I also realized how challenging a complete zero impact lifestyle would be.  In fact, I would argue that it is impossible.  As consumers we have only one solution, try our hardest to purchase items with as little packaging as possible and always be mindful of our overall waste impact.  This challenge has made me acutely aware of my impact and ways that I can reduce it.

April 10, 2011 at 8:21 pm Leave a comment

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