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So, you are planning an event, maybe at school, or church, or at the office, and you are serving food.  You would like to make it a litterless event, but how do you go about it?  If you have a sink or two to wash up at, it’s easy to have volunteers help clean.  But what if you don’t have access to a sink, or don’t have the time or the bodies to help?  Just pack them up and wash them at home!  Volunteers can each take a bin home to wash.  It’s easy, fun, and rewarding.  I just love washing a whole bin of colourful plates, knowing that nothing got thrown away.  It’s an amazing feeling!

Here is how I do it, and it is super easy.

These are the supplies from my school, which is portable:

  • 100 small plastic plates

    IMG_0710

    100 plates, really doesn’t take that much room.

  • 2 bins to keep the plates in
  • 100 stacking plastic cups
  • 2 bins to keep the cups in
  • 100 plastic forks, good quality because you are going to reuse them!  The less disposable they look the better so people don’t throw them out.
  • spoons and knives (usually, forks will do fine, but just in case)
  • 3  small bins for sorting cutlery
  • washable table cloth
  • 1 bin, if necessary, to hold all the cutlery, table cloths, etc. and washing stations

For washing stations, when there is a sink or two:

  • a small bottle of dish-washing liquid for each sink
  • a couple of sponges or dish cloths for each sink
  • an absorbant dish drying mat for each sink
  • plenty of microfibre drying towels (find the kind that absorbs water really well) or other tea towels for everyone to help dry
IMG_0713

Cups and a bin of forks….

Some tips:

  • choose lighter plastics if you are going to be transporting them a lot
  • have fun and choose things that match – it will look more professional too
  • put signs on the empty bins so that guests can sort for you.  Remember to include cutlery on the sign too so that no one throws them out.
  • put out a compost bin for any food waste and for the napkins, if you have municipal composting or someone who does backyard composting
  • people are often impressed when I do this, and ask me questions.  I just started leaving this flyer, Tips for a Non-Disposable Event to help people get started with their own non-disposable events.  Feel free to share it!

Here’s my setup in action at my daughter’s Grade 6 graduation:

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Cup setup

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Someone even brought a water dispenser instead of bottled drinks!

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Plate setup

IMG_0810

IMG_0811 Dirty dishes, mostly sorted!

When I got everything home, it only took 20 min to wash all the plates and let them air dry, and another 20 min in the morning to do the cups.  Throw the table cloths in the wash and you are all done!

IMG_0825IMG_0827Oh, and the amount of garbage generated from the reception?  Normally, you would see at least a couple of garbage bins piled full of disposable cups and plates.  At this reception?  Just packaging from some of the food!

IMG_0814

A look in the garbage can….

Doesn’t that feel great???

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Before I get into this post, I want to say, that I am not singling out the company in the picture below.  It just happens to be that I enjoy popcorn chicken, and once in a while I indulge.  To the company in this picture I want to say, why don’t you read this post and my blog, and then lead the way to more responsible fast food?  It’s inevitable that fast food will have to become more environmentally conscious, and the company that leads the way is going to attract more customers than those that don’t.

I was at a food court a couple of weeks ago and my daughter and I had a craving for popcorn chicken.  I ordered the $3.99 special for myself which included a piece of chicken, some popcorn chicken, fries, and pop.  I usually intervene, but today I deliberately didn’t to see how much ‘stuff’ would be included in my order.  The results are pictured below.

Fast Food Waste

Waste generated from one fast food meal.

The tally:  1 large paper cup, 1 plastic lid, 1 plastic straw, 1 paper straw wrapper, 1 paper box, 2 paper french fry sleeves, 1 plastic dipping sauce container, 2 ketchup packets, 1 plastic fork wrapped in 1 plastic package, 2 napkins, and 1 paper placemat.   15 disposable items came with my meal.  Unbelievable.  This doesn’t even include the waste from my daughter’s meal, which was similar.  All these items, manufactured to be used for a total of… only 10 minutes and disposed of.

So, as I said above, once in a while I indulge in some fast food.  But, as I am sure it is for many, it is always bittersweet as I contemplate the waste that always seems to come with this food I am wanting to enjoy.  When I think of the trees that are clear-cut everyday to feed the fast food industry, it all seems quite ludicrous.

So what can this company, and others do?  As I have suggested in more than one post, let’s take a look at the garbage and see where they can make a difference.

The paper products:

  • The box.  Well, you have to have the food in something.  At least under the box it says that the “package contains a minimum of 51% recycled material including 25% post-consumer”.  It also says in bold lettering, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”  Well, let’s see them start getting to work on the first 2 R’s themselves!
  • The french fry sleeves.  When I opened the box, I was shocked to find the fries and the popcorn chicken separated in their own paper sleeve.  Excuse me, but isn’t everything in the box fried and greasy?  So what if they got a little mixed up?  The sleeves were so unnecessary.  And they were made of white, bleached, paper with no claims of recycled content.
  • The napkins.  Again, white, bleached paper with no claims of recycled content.  Also gave me way more than I needed (we returned two).  Easy enough to ask the customer how many napkins they need.
  • The placemat.  We don’t need it.  It’s just advertising for the company.  Unfortunately, the placemat doesn’t make the same claims as the box in terms of recycled content, although it looked as if it could have had some.
  • The cup.  Again, white, and no claims about recycled content.  And it’s big.   If the drink is in a combo, how about letting the customer opt out of the larger drink if they want to, so they can use a smaller cup and not have to dump the extra that they aren’t going to drink?
  • The paper straw wrapper.  What about those straw dispensers that dispense straws one by one?

Conclusion on the paper products – reduce and use 100% (or as close to it as possible) recycled unbleached paper products made with technologies that conserve water, as many other restaurants are already doing.  Really, the only paper that was necessary was the box, a cup, and maybe one napkin if you are neat.

The plastic:

  • The lid and straw.  How about fast food companies asking you if you would like a lid or a straw?  If people in cafeterias can carry their mugs of coffee or glasses of juice to the table, I think people in food courts can handle the same.  It’s only necessary to have a lid and straw if you are taking your drink to go (and if you fill the cup right to the brim).
  • The fork.  As you can see, I didn’t even use the fork.  It’s finger food, for goodness sake.  And why the heck it is wrapped in plastic, I don’t know.   Certainly unnecessary, as plenty of fast food and take-out don’t give out plastic-wrapped utensils.  What about making utensil dispensers like the ones for straws?  Also, ask the customer if they want utensils instead of automatically giving them one or sticking one in the bag.  My daughter actually returned the fork from her meal.
  • The condiments.  Well, McD’s got that right many, many years ago, at least here in Canada.  Let the customer pump their own condiments into a mini paper cup, or better yet, right onto their fries or chicken.   Again, easy solution.

Conclusion for the plastic?  None of it is necessary for a sit-down meal.

The result?

Low litter fast food meal

Waste from low-litter fast food meal.

The low-litter fast food meal – 1 paper cup, 1 paper box, 1 napkin.  3 items that could potentially be made of 100% recycled material.

What a huge difference.  And it would save the fast food companies a lot of money, even if they were to spend more on recycled content.

Future post:  Going a step further with food courts now using real dishes and cutlery!

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I felt it appropriate to post on the day of Earth Hour, but don’t read this during Earth Hour, which is 8:30pm to 9:30pm local time today!

The focus of this year’s Earth Hour is on what you are going to do beyond the Hour.  Are you planning to reduce your energy use, ride your bike to work, or recycle?  Well, I’m going to challenge you to do more.  I’m going to challenge you to eliminate as many disposable products as you can from your lifestyle.

When it comes to issues regarding reducing our personal energy use, it seems to me that there is a lot of emphasis on our direct energy use, i.e. through our use of electricity, oil and gas, etc.  But what about our indirect energy use?  I believe this issue should also be at the forefront.  That is why I started the Non-Disposable Earth Project, because I don’t think there is enough focus on how much energy use we can reduce by eliminating disposable products.

If we all turned off lights we aren’t using, that makes a significant difference collectively on our energy use.  However, if  we were all to stop using say, paper towels, that would have more impact than we realize.  That’s because all we see is the product’s end use.  We take it out of the package, wipe something up, and throw it out.  No energy use except our own, right?  We might feel guilty about adding garbage to the world, but do we stop to think about how much energy went into manufacturing that paper towel and getting it into our hands so it can be used just once and thrown away?

Let’s look at some of the benefits I can think of if we all stopped using paper towels:

  • we would save all the energy (fossil fuels and electricity) that is consumed to clear-cut trees, transport them, process them into paper, package them, transport them to the stores, transport them home, and then transport them to the garbage dump
  • we would have cleaner air by reducing the burning of fossil fuels
  • we would save millions of trees
  • we would preserve habitats for countless animals
  • we would preserve countless plant species
  • we would reduce our garbage, thus preserving the trees, plants, and habitat on land that would have been used for burying garbage
  • we would have even more clean air because we have more trees and plants
  • we would save a significant amount of water from the processing and manufacturing of the paper towels
  • we would keep the chemicals used in the processing and manufacturing of paper towels out of our water supply
  • we would save some money, and get to skip the paper towel aisle at the store, saving us some energy too!

And the list could go on.  As you can see, eliminating just one disposable product from our lifestyle not only greatly reduces our energy use, but also has other far-reaching benefits.

Earth Hour is about a global movement towards a sustainable Earth.  What better action to take than to eliminate the unsustainable practice of using disposable products?  Think about it today during Earth Hour and let’s make this a Non-Disposable Earth.  Look through your garbage and find a disposable product that you can live without.  Then live without it.  It’s that easy.

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It’s March Break and I just had to purge.   I don’t know how it happened, but things just started overflowing out of my closet.  I don’t even remember getting much stuff lately.  A fair bit of it is stuff that I hoard because I can’t bear to throw it away – office supplies, gift bags, plastic containers, plant pots.  I can’t bring myself to recycle perfectly good stuff, and it’s not the kind of thing that you can take to the local thrift shop.  So I keep collecting them and don’t know what to do with them.

So, how do you dispose of things without actually disposing of them?  Well, for those who haven’t discovered them yet, Craigslist and Freecycle could be your ticket to clutter and landfill freedom.  Craigslist is essentially the largest free online classifieds, started as a hobby by Craig Newmark in San Francisco.  I use Craigslist when I have something decent that I know someone will want to buy.  If it doesn’t sell in a couple of weeks or so, I consider Freecycling it.

Freecycle, of course is free.  Their misssion is to keep things out of landfill.  If someone wants what you have, they are pretty quick to pick it up too.  It’s so great having people come to your door to take your stuff away for you!  I’ve picked up a few things this way through the generosity of others as well.  I think it’s pretty awesome that people are giving away stuff freely through Freecycle.  And free doesn’t mean it’s just junk.  Most of it is completely good stuff that people just want to get off their hands.

This week, I’ve moved a fair amount of stuff out the door – my daughter’s outgrown toys, her bicycle, skates, excess craft supplies.  I passed on a huge pile of office supplies that I’ve been hoarding, sold an all-in-one inkjet printer I never used, the cart it was sitting on, gifts that were never used, baby clothes that were never used, items that I bought that I never used, some shelving, you name it!  All taken away either sold or gifted.  Now I have a bedroom that is almost empty, with only a small box to take to the thrift shop, one bag of paper to recycle and one bag of garbage to show for it.  Incredible!

Now if only I could find someone to come and make all the paperwork on my desk disappear!

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One of the events that motivated me to start this blog was participating in the Great Canadian Shoreline Clean-Up.  I have always wanted to join a group clean-up event with my daughter, but always seemed to miss them.  This year, we were able to catch the tail-end of the event.  Luckily, there was a site nearby, so we set off on the morning of September 25th to Taylor Creek Park, at Coxwell and O’Connor.  Taylor Creek is a tributary of the city’s Don River, branching east from Don Mills along O’Connor and then southeast to the golf course at Victoria Park.  It is a great spot for walking, and this was the first time we visited the park since moving into the area last year.

We met up with the organizers, who happened to be members of the Toronto Field Naturalists.  We teamed up in pairs (three for us with my daughter), equipped with a garbage bag, a recycling bag, a box for sharp objects, working gloves, and a clipboard to tally the objects found.  We decided what sections of the river we would tackle, and off we went.

I was not sure what to expect when we got to the river bank.  I was kind of picturing a lot of water bottles, food wrappers and such.  I was surprised by what we found.  A lot of plastic bags.  A lot.

Removing entangled plastic bags from roots and trees.

And they weren’t floating around or washed up on shore for us to easily pick up.  They were twisted and knotted in branches and the roots and trunks of trees everywhere.  At times, they were tangled in branches many feet above the water, probably washed ashore during higher water levels in spring  We spent a lot of time just picking away at the bags, giving up on some and some just disintegrated, becoming tiny bits that would float in the water and eventually be eaten by poor, unsuspecting fish.

We didn’t find a lot of the garbage that one would find at the beach – water bottles, cigarette butts, food wrappers, etc.  This was probably because Taylor Creek is a pretty quiet park.  So it was obvious the plastic bags did not originate there.    Seeing all those plastic bags I could really understand the message in the video, The Majestic Plastic Bag, and see how damaging a plastic bag can be.  It can fly.  It can float.  It can travel great distances from it’s origin.  And for all intents and purposes, it will break down, but never biodegrade, left forever to poison our fish.

I also found a lot of suspicious bags that had been knotted.  You guessed it, poop and scoop bags.  How ironic, that our poop and scoop laws designed to keep feces from contaminating our public spaces and water system, is actually also creating more pollution.  Since this clean-up, I’ve been noticing discarded poop and scoop bags everywhere.  Time for Toronto to rethink this bylaw.  There are other municipalities that have more effective ways to deal with dog poop problems.

Being a small park, there were only about 8 volunteers at this site.  In three hours, we didn’t even cover a kilometre of shoreline, that’s how much garbage there was.   Next year, I want to inspire my high school students to join this event.  Our youth need to see the reality of the problem of pollution for themselves, and our shorelines need all the help they can get.

I can’t express how saddened I was to see the sorry state of the river bank.  Plastic has become a permanent part of its landscape.

I’ve listed local clean-up events under Environmental Action.  Spring is coming.  Find a local event and sign up for it.  Or organize something in your area.  Involve young people.  Hopefully, t will inspire them, and us, to be more responsible.

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It’s been a month since I’ve been keeping track of my garbage, and I was pleased to find out that I am averaging less than 1 grocery bag of garbage and less than one box of recycling a week.   Compost however could get as high as 4-5 produce bags a week, or as low as 2-3.  I was disappointed and frustrated to find out that 90% of my garbage and recycling was food related.  Not that I was surprised.  But why has food, something that should so easily be sustainable, become such a huge contributor to waste in our society?

In one word, plastic.  Even though I feel good about reducing disposables in my home, when I do throw something out, I think about how I can avoid it in the future.  For me, not using disposable paper products is easy.  But trying to avoid packaged food….  There are some ‘necessities’ that I’m not sure I could give up.

Here are some of the regular things I buy that I would have to give up if I went on a Non-Disposable food diet:

  • enoki and other mushrooms that only come pre-packaged (don’t ask me why I listed that first!)
  • chips (oh no!)
  • crackers (yikes!)
  • cereal (unless I made my own)
  • meat (why do they have to package it in those damned styrofoam trays???)
  • chocolate (gasp!)
  • soy milk (why did they introduce the plastic cap on the cardboard milk carton???)
  • orange juice
  • English cucumbers
  • fish
  • frozen fish & seafood
  • deli meats
  • instant noodles (my emergency food!)
  • cat food (ok, not for me, alright?)
  • cakes
  • any take-out food
  • any fast-food
  • frozen corn & veggies
  • tomato sauce
  • ketchup
  • mayonnaise
  • salad dressings
  • sauces
  • gourmet tomatoes instead of the mealy field tomatoes
  • strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries
  • frozen berries
  • what about beverages?

That’s what I can think of so far that I buy on a regular basis and can’t get at the bulk store.  This list is not as long as it may be for the average person because I have already weaned myself off of many processed foods, due to my daughter’s past allergies.  But even when you are trying to eat a whole-food diet, you still run into packaging, some of it unnecessary.

Where to draw the line?  Already today, I bought a bag of apples when I could have chosen unbagged ones, and was debating over a bag of organic avocadoes or regular ones that weren’t packaged.  I bought another bag of tortilla chips and three cartons of beverages.  The grapes came in its own bag that you can’t reuse.  I bought chicken, and soup bones packaged in such small quantities that I had to buy three.  That’s four more styrofoam trays and plastic wrap.  I really hate going down each aisle and adding more potential garbage to my cart.

There used to be a day when plastic didn’t exist and packaging was reusable or compostable.  We need to find a way to live without disposable plastic packaging, and non-reusable packaging.  It was possible once.

I’m imagining a new grocery chain called “Ye Olde Grocery Store” where nothing is sold in plastic packaging and you have to bring, buy, or pay a deposit on reusable containers.  I’d also like to start “Ye Olde Toy Store”  where you can choose your favourite unpackaged Littlest Petshop pet from underneath a glass counter, and scoop Lego and buy it by the pound like nails!  It can be possible again….

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As many of you know, I’ve already reduced the garbage I make by quite a bit.  However, I want to take it even further.  So I am taking a tally of the garbage I still have left to see what I can do next.  I include recycling and compost in this tally, as although they are great alternatives, both expend energy and are therefore still contributing carbon to our atmosphere.

So after a week, here is the garbage left over and my analysis of it.  I’m only counting the larger items at this point.  Keep in mind that there are only two of us (one and a half, really) and that I’ve already done quite a bit so I’m down to the bare essentials.

Garbage.  I was pretty impressed with the garbage.  It only amounted to half a grocery bag full this week.  Most of the garbage was plastic, and aside from a broken plastic food saver that couldn’t be recycled, it was all food packaging.  This included a 10kg bag for rice, 2 cereal bags, wrappers and bags for crackers, a tray for crackers, 2 large chip bags, a bag that had chocolate in it, and plastic wrap from meat purchases.  There was a bit of paper, including some wax paper that was used for wrapping prepared meats, and a few napkins and tissues.  The other notable items were some tin foil and a broken drinking glass that I am assuming is non-recyclable.

Recycling.  Amounted to one banker’s box this week.  Most of it was paper.  This included a cereal box, a chocolate box, 2 soy milk cartons (flattened), a flour bag, a potato bag, a cardboard sleeve for something I bought, a chocolate wrapper, a flyer, and 10 or more receipts.  There were two  metal cans.  Plastic consisted of five clear bags with holes in them that I couldn’t think of a way to reuse and a plastic meat tray.  There were also two styrofoam meat trays.

Compost.  Amounted to three produce bags full, which is the most waste of all three categories by weight.  I’m ashamed to say, of those three bags, I threw out quite a bit of food that could have been eaten.  Of produce, I chucked 1/2 a lemon, a couple limes, and 1 head of broccoli.  Of prepared foods, I threw away 1/2 a peanut butter sandwich, 2 servings of oatmeal, 1 serving of sausage and pasta, 2 whole sausages, 5 slices of bread, bread crusts from my daughter’s sandwiches, and 1 serving of stale pretzels.  That’s at least a couple of meals’ worth.

In my post, Christmas Leftovers, I resolved to reduce the food I waste.  This is going to be a challenge for me.  As I watched myself throw away what used to be perfectly good food, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do about it and still am not sure.  But I think something will come to me.

It is interesting to note that vast majority of the waste/recycling I have left is food-related.  I am not sure how I am going to buy cereal, meat, and my favourite snacks – chocolate, chips, and crackers – without generating waste.  At least with produce I have been reusing plastic bags, but I’d like a better option.  I’ve seen reusable produce bags made of cotton, but that just doesn’t seem to be entirely practical for me.

This is just the first week.  I think I’ll track the whole month before making any changes, just to see if there are other trends.  Mind you, I won’t post every week specifically about my garbage unless I discover something notable….

I’ll end this post by asking you, “”What is in your garbage can?”

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