Posts tagged ‘environment’

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

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

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

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