Posts tagged ‘waste’

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

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

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

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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