Posts tagged ‘no impact challenge’

Royal Wedding, Royal Mess?

by Alix Hallen

This will be a short blog post, but I just wanted to share my experience hosting a small royal wedding watch party. Although it might have been easier and what I would have done before the no impact challenge, I chose to use all reusable items. Hosting people, whether its two or twenty is often a hassle and it is easier to just throw everything out at the end of the party (especially when it is at 3 in the morning).

But I resisted the urge and used all of my reusable dishes and cups and utensils. So my challenge to you is; when hosting a party think twice about what you serve your guests on. Although it may be more clean up for you, it is better in the long run to host a sustainable party!

April 29, 2011 at 4:13 pm Leave a comment

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

“To Go” is a No Go

by Meghan Cavanaugh

This morning, like usual, I went to Norbucks to get my daily caffeine fix.  As I stood patiently waiting in line (reuseable mug in hand) I eyed the pastries behind the glass container.  By their looks alone I am generally consumed with tasty thoughts of the glistening chocolate on the cookies or the perfectly coated frosting on the lemon pound cake.  It is the eternal question for me before the barista asks my drink order:  To purchase a pastry or not to purchase a pastry…?  However, to my surprise I found the delectable treats not so perfectly incased behind the glass.  Instead, I found them wrapped in that pesky material: plastic wrap.  My heart dropped.  My first thoughts were that some sort of new school mandatory was now forcing the goods to be wrapped in the plastic for sanitary reasons.  Do we honestly need our food so incased when we will most likely be consuming that blueberry muffin within 10 to 15 minutes of purchasing it?

At this point my curiosity had peaked and I asked the woman at the counter why all the pastries were covered in saran wrap.  She responded that the usual Starbucks bags had not arrived, but they should be here soon.  Somewhat relieved that Northwestern had not placed some new health standard on food service, I also wondered why we need the bag at all or furthermore the plastic.  I suppose the bag is convenient for the on the go, but Norbucks also does not serve anything “for here.”  If they did I believe that pastry bag and coffee cup “to go” consumption would likely drop substantially.  Most students buy their pastry and coffee and sit around on the Norbucks couches and tables chatting and doing work anyway.  Why can’t they drink their coffee in a mug or eat their pastry on a plate?  This is just one more way that we could cut down on the single-use-item consumption that dominates our daily lives.

April 28, 2011 at 12:10 pm 1 comment

Spring is in the air…and plastic bags, too

by Zach Glasser

Today it finally feels like spring in Evanston. After a week of bitter cold rain, it was nice to step out into the sunshine today on my way to the cafe. I may have spent my day indoors writing a paper, but at least I snagged a window seat.

As I looked longingly out onto the street (my staring became more and more frequent the longer I sat here), I noticed that, despite the warm weather today, there were no leaves on the trees. Now, I’m of the mindset that Evanston has the longest winters around, so that probably shouldn’t surprise me. What did surprise me, though was that instead of leaves in the trees, there were PLASTIC BAGS.

This is not a leaf. It is a bag.

Imagine my dismay to find this bag in the tree instead of leaves. Ladies and gentlemen, this is not what spring is all about. The epidemic of plastic bags in our cities couldn’t be more apparent when we start seeing things like this.

As I kept looking out the window, I saw more and more bags tangled in trees! I knew this was a phenomenon in some places, but I had just never noticed it here before. I was able to count no fewer than seven bags in four separate trees, just on this block alone.

You just can’t look at these pictures and tell me that this is okay. The plastic bags that are so ubiquitous in any shopping center are now, if today’s experience is to be believed, just as ubiquitous as leaf-replacement therapy for balding trees.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the No Impact Challenge, it’s how easy it is to go entirely bagless. My lifestyle doesn’t require plastic bags–I can bring my own reusable bag wherever I go. The convenience of using a plastic bag is so sorely outweighed by the negative impact they have–if they’re not filling up landfills or the ocean, they’re filling up trees–that there really are no more excuses.

Look! More bags!

Whether you read this blog for inspiration or because you simply enjoy our challenge, I encourage you to be observant next time you walk down the street. How many plastic bags are floating around up there? Do your part and bring your own bag when you go shopping and maybe our trees will grow some leaves this spring instead of plastic bags.

April 23, 2011 at 4:09 pm Leave a comment

Lessons from a Prospie

by Chase Eck

It was Sunday.  I had just picked up a prospie (prospective student for those not in the know) and we were headed out to lunch.  I suggested a couple places downtown and she picked Five Guys. My mouth watering in anticipation of the juicy goodness that is a Five Guys burger, I walked eagerly there.  I went up to the counter and ordered a cheeseburger and a water…and then it hit me: that burger would be wrapped in foil and then put into a paper bag and my water? It came in a plastic cup. Three wasted single-use items, three points.  I sat down glum at the sudden increase in my point total for the day. As lunch went on I ended up talking to the prospie about student groups and BaglessNU. I told her about the game and she seemed pretty interested.  Discussion about the game and my recent strategic misstep led to a broader conversation about sustainability and why exactly I was doing this.  In fact, I had just the type of conversation that we hoped to spark when the idea of the game was introduced. 

As I look back on Sunday I think about it as a successful day.  Sure, I got three points and, more importantly, used up three single-use items, but I got the chance to talk to someone and share with them the real issue.  While playing and designing this game I’ve found that it’s easy to get caught up in the pursuit of victory or the details of the rules and lose sight of why we’re actually doing this. The real purpose of this game is not to win but to raise awareness of the unnecessary waste that we produce through single use items and hopefully encourage more people to stop using single-use items. Even though I have failed to completely avoid single use items I can console myself with the hope that just by participating I am helping to bring about a broader awareness of the need to be sustainable because no matter how few points I get I can’t do it alone.

April 19, 2011 at 12:01 am Leave a comment

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

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