Posts tagged ‘eco’

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.

April 15, 2011 at 1:57 pm 2 comments

Celebrating Earth Week at Northwestern

Its almost here! As some of you may know, next Friday, a week from today, is Earth Day. Leading up to Friday, we encourage all of you BaglessNU readers to celebrate Earth Week with us! If you’ve been reading the blog and wanted to learn more about the campaign or just want to do more to become more sustainable… now is the time!

Here’s a list of 10 things you can do to celebrate Earth Week:

  1. Bring a reusable bag with you and skip the plastic (or paper for that matter).
  2. Decline a paper cup at Norbucks and use a reusable one instead.
  3. Take on the No Impact Challenge for one week.
  4. Be a guest blogger! (email baglessnu@gmail.com with a short bio and photo to sign up)
  5. Sport a “Go Bagless” pin — you can pick one up from Liz Derby or at a BaglessNU event.
  6. Go to the free screening of Bag It on Thursday, April 21 at 7pm in Harris 107. RSVP on Facebook!
  7. Follow BaglessNU on twitter and tweet about going green @BaglessNU using #NoImpactNU.
  8. “Like” BaglessNU on Facebook and share your favorite No Impact Challenge blog post with your friends.
  9. Check out Mount Trashmore on Friday, April 22 from 11-3pm on Sheridan Road (in front of Lunt Hall) to see how much trash NU creates in one day.
  10. Attend a weekly meeting of one of NU’s environmental groups! (The Policy Center for Energy and the Environment (BaglessNU) meets Wednesdays at 6:30pm in University 318, SEED meets on Tuesdays at 9pm in the Arch Room in Norris, ESW meets on Tuesdays at 8pm in Ford, ECO meets in the lobby of Hillel at 1 pm on Sundays)
Happy Earth Week! Go green!

April 15, 2011 at 1:44 pm Leave a comment

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

Trying to enjoy life to the fullest without creating waste; I argue that its impossible

by Andy Hobaugh

We are approaching the end of the second week of Northwestern’s spring quarter. Still, I am getting over what might have been the most relaxing and exciting spring break ever. After returning from Miami, Florida two weeks ago I have found it extremely difficult to readjust to the unpleasant Chicago weather and motivate myself to go to class. I just want to go back to the wonderful eighty-five degree weather on the beaches of South Beach or the golf courses of Boca. Alas, I can not do that. I must, instead, be responsible. Have I been? Absolutely not. What does this mean with regards to the No Impact Challenge? It means that I am losing big time…I think.

On the first day of the No Impact Challenge–Friday April 1–I was invited to go see the Cubs play on opening day at Wrigley Field. Despite the rain and sub-forty degree temperatures, I was pumped! Visions of hot dogs, peanuts, cracker jacks, and of course baseball danced in my head. The one thing that hadn’t crossed my mind was the waste sporting events must generate. I didn’t hold back, though. I bought two plastic bags containing peanuts. I had two hot dogs. These come covered in a foil-paper wrapper and are placed in a cardboard box for one’s carrying convenience. Of course to wash all of this down I had an ice cold Pepsi, which came served in a plastic cup. The waste just piled up.  There is no recycling; its all just picked up and thrown away. Somewhere in the world I can envision a landfill full of Cubs’ souvenir cups.

Imagine all of the people who go to sporting events buy hot dogs, nachos, beer, peanuts, and pop corn. The trash must just pile up. When I was in Miami I attended a Heat game at the American Airlines Arena. The stadium is LEED certified, there are plenty of recycling bins, but most of the items purchased by fans are not recyclable. Even if items are recycled–i.e. plastic cups–they are most likely one use items that could have been avoided in an ideal world. People could have just brought their own drink to the game, right? Wrong. Even though it is becoming more normal to carry around a reusable water bottle or mug these items are not allowed into the friendly confines of Wrigley Field or the “sustainable” confines of the American Airlines Arena. During the Heat game, there was an announcement about recycling. This is a good educational tool, but it does nothing when people have to take a new cup every time they purchase a drink.

In the immediate future, I do not see a solution to this problem. Professional entertainment, be it sporting events or movies, continues to be a wasteful  past time. Sport teams do not want fans bringing their own reusable water bottles to the games because there is no way of telling whats inside. Most movie theaters are like that too. However, it is much easier to get into a theater with a water bottle because there is no pesky security; good luck getting into a Heat game with one. If people want to avoid being wasteful at a sporting event or at a movie theater, then the best solution is to not buy anything. In my opinion thats impossible. When I go to a movie I am probably going to get popcorn and/or Raisenettes. When I go to a ball game I can’t help but buy peanuts and hot dogs. What everyone can do, however, is consciously cut down their waste at either of these types of events. You can stop taking napkins. In the bathrooms you can pass on the paper towels; instead, use a hand dryer or even your pants. Don’t take a cardboard box to carry food items. Everyone has two hands and multiple pockets. Use them. Just don’t stuff your pockets with ketchup and mustard packets; use the communal dispensers!

I am not going to eliminate all of my waste during this challenge. I know that there are things I will not be able to forgo; but I have become more aware of what I am contributing to the waste cycle. The problem is, when I get a chance to take a day off and go to a Cubs game, I usually do. I skipped class on Tuesday to attend my second Cubs game of the season. This time I only had one hotdog with no packets of mustard, rather I went to the communal mustard dispenser. I did accumulate plenty of points when it was all said and done. Fortunately, I am aware of what waste I did cause…and I am not proud of it

April 7, 2011 at 8:43 pm 2 comments

Let the No Impact Challenge begin…

by Liz Derby

So you may be wondering, what is the No Impact Challenge? and how did it come about?

Lets start from the very beginning. Last year, Northwestern student Liz Miller wrote a policy for the Roosevelt Institute focused on reducing the use of plastic bags through a bag tax.  Meanwhile, ECO (Environmental Campus Outreach), another NU student group was working on a similar project to reduce the use of plastic bags. Collaboration between the two groups lead forming the BaglessNU Campaign at the end of Fall quarter.

While BaglessNU tends to focus specifically on eliminating the use of plastic bags, we realized, as a group, that we should also cut down on the use of any item that we use just once and then throw away.  We wondered: what would happen if we skipped the paper cups at Norbucks and dined in the restaurant rather than getting take-out? What if we counted every one-time-use items up at the end of everyday to see what sort of environmental impact we were making? Thus, we decided to start this challenge.

1 month. 12 players. Countless ways to cut back.

Today is the first day of our challenge. So far, I’ve had a cup of coffee at home instead of at a coffee shop and used a cloth towel rather than a paper towel. Needless to say, I haven’t been awake for too many hours to have made any other substitutions, but, not to worry, we’ll keep you updated. Each day one (or more) of the 12 players will blog about their experience with the challenge: when its been hard to stick to their goals, when its been easier than expected, and everything else in between.

To the rest of the players, good luck! To other readers, I encourage you to join us — challenge yourself to decrease your impact. Tell us about your stories by tweeting @BaglessNU and using #NoImpactNU!

Tweet

April 1, 2011 at 6:52 pm Leave a comment


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