Posts tagged ‘Elizabeth Miller’

Moving Beyond the Plastic Paradigm

Plaza cafe...so artsy.

by Chase Eck

My friend Stephen and I were in the library a couple nights ago. He was learning everything there is to know about the Holocaust, and I was writing a paper analyzing different historical perspectives on the Israeli war of Independence in 1948. Clearly we needed a break. We moseyed on down to Plaza café and swapped light conversation about looming demographic problems in China and electoral models across democracies over steaming cups of Seattle’s Best. Sometime during the conversation I realized just how many points I had accrued during my study break and vented my dismay to Stephen with some well-chosen words.  Stephen’s response was: “Well you just have to count the plastic right?”

Of course as anyone who is familiar with the No Impact challenge knows I couldn’t just count the plastic.  I had to count the cardboard coffee cup as well. That’s the point, it’s easy to fixate on one easily identifiable culprit such as plastic or oil but the truth is the issue is so much broader.  We need to move beyond the latest villain of the day and seek to identify why wasteful behavior is so bad and work to better our habits with regards to that issue as well as others.  Plastic bags aren’t inherently bad, it’s just that the number we consume is so wasteful. This concern applies to all single use items, not just those made of plastic.

April 28, 2011 at 11:59 pm 2 comments

Hotel Breakfast Gone Bad

by Liz Miller

I knew that weekend was going to be my first major challenge.  I didn’t know if I would be able to resist the artificially-flavored gas station temptations that awaited me on my late night Greyhound journey to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Why was I going to the UP, you might ask?  For an interview.  Yes, an interview.  I had applied for a particularly lucrative scholarship in my small Wisconsin hometown and, having been the only one there to apply, was automatically granted an interview at the organization’s district office in the UP.  My northbound trek began with the Amtrak to Milwaukee followed by a four-hour Greyhound ride, bringing me to my destination at approximately 1:45 AM.  Amidst the frantic errands of my day of departure, I didn’t have time to pack more than a few pieces of fruit stolen from the dining hall and a half-empty bag of cereal.  It would take all the willpower I could muster to keep from giving in to a travel-weary need for corn syrup and sodium, and I wasn’t sure I was up to the test.

But somehow I completed the journey without earning a single point.  In my post-Greyhound disheveled delirium I was quite proud of myself, though that pride would prove to be short-lived.  The next morning at breakfast, I was faced with my biggest No Impact dilemma since deciding whether to eat before dance practice when my only option was the plastic-heavy Norris food court (I ultimately decided to take the point and avoid inevitable collapse).  The interviews were being held in the AmericInn hotel, probably because there was no better venue in the tiny town.  I had stayed there the night before and could not wait to wake up to a nice cozy continental breakfast.  But when I finally rolled out of bed and went downstairs, I was met with the most unwelcome of surprises: Styrofoam plates.  No Impact Challenge aside, there are very few things I hate more than Styrofoam.  I normally go out of my way to avoid it, but here it was staring me in the face with no other option in sight.  I was ready to go barbaric and forego dishware altogether until I made the mistake of looking across the room.  There sat a professionally-clad group of aptly-aged people who were undoubtedly my interviewers.

As much as it killed me, I knew balancing breakfast on my hands would not make the best of impressions.  I swallowed my pride and succumbed to the vile Styrofoam before me.  I made sure to take only a plate and none of the plastic silverware, cutting down both my point total and the sustenance available to me.  Personal aversion to Styrofoam aside, it was only one point earned.  Not the end of the world.  But right before my interview I stopped by the bathroom, and as I washed my hands I realized I was faced with another dilemma.  I’ve gotten into the habit of substituting my pants for paper towels when no better alternative is available, and at that moment there was no better alternative available.  But could I risk tainting the good impression I had sacrificed a point to achieve by showing up with marginally damp hands?  Those are always the worst kind to shake.  I decided to keep my first point of the day from being taken in vain and sacrificed another to the pliable brown paper I had become so accustomed to avoiding.  Sadly, luck abandoned me and the scholarship landed in another’s hands, so both points still proved wasted in the end.

April 18, 2011 at 1:12 am Leave a comment

Wet Hands, Wine Tasting, and Unsustainable Sustainability

by Liz Miller

Before the challenge began, I thought it would be easy to go the entire month without earning a single point.  Irrational?  Perhaps.  Impossible?  I didn’t think so.  But then came the wine tasting.* It was only day one of the challenge, and I was already faced with my first potential dilemma.  I figured the wine shop would be classy enough to give us real glasses, but I wasn’t sure.  What if they served us in little plastic cups?  I would have to choose between my love of wine and my dreams of a point-free April.  Wanting to avoid the decision altogether, I texted a friend who had been there before to find out if my worries were warranted.  Minutes passed, but no answer arrived.  As I was about to leave with nothing but a bleak faith in the classiness of Wine Styles, I suddenly knew what to do.  I would just bring my own glass.  I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of that sooner, seeing as I was no stranger to bringing my own reusables.  I dug out the smallest cup in my eclectic collection of glassware and slipped it into my purse with a wave of relief.  Crisis averted.

My newest night out necessity

Of course, they did serve us in real wine glasses so it was never really even a crisis in the first place.  To top it off, they even bagged my friends’ bottles of wine in a fancy reusable without them even asking for it.  Even though my overthinking ended up being all for naught in this particular instance, this challenge has raised my awareness of the disposable products I had never really realized were such a part of my life.  I’ve found myself needing to take unsustainable measures to be fully sustainable, sometimes forgoing meals when my only available options are the plastic-wrapped sandwiches for sale in our student center’s food court.  I’ve been sparing myself points, but I’m also probably on a fast track to a mild case of malnutrition.

Despite my determination, my dreams of ending with zero points have already been shattered.  Sadly, it wasn’t a desire to gluttonize freely or spend Friday nights without my own glasses that did me in.  No, it was something far more mundane.  I had been zoning out at the sink, when I looked at my hands and there it was.  Never before had a damp paper towel seemed so sinister.  I stared at it in awe, as if it were a gun I’d mistakenly thought was unloaded before playing with the trigger.  It hadn’t even been three full days, and I had already earned the dreaded first point that I hoped would never come.  To top it all off, my accidental paper towel brought me to the uncomfortable realization that disposable items were more subconsciously ingrained in my life than I had thought.  Of course, all hope is not lost.  Sure, it’s too late for zero.  But I’ve still got a shot at one.

*Don’t worry, I’m 21.

April 5, 2011 at 6:54 am 1 comment


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