Archive for the ‘How To Reduce Disposables’ Category

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


    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

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:


Cup setup


Someone even brought a water dispenser instead of bottled drinks!


Plate setup


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!


A look in the garbage can….

Doesn’t that feel great???


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So, in a previous post, I said I’d follow up with a post on food courts using real dishes and cutlery.  Well, there is one that recently popped up in my own back yard and it’s so exciting!

My daughter and I checked out the new Urban Eatery at Toronto’s Eaton Centre a while ago and you should too!  Not only does the new food court look spectacular, but it’s leading the way by serving everything in real dishes.  Way to go!

Pictured is my daughter, enjoying Chinese fast food on a real plate and with a real fork!

Here she is handing in her tray at the Collection Station.  There are no garbage cans, so everything actually gets sorted properly by the person working behind the counter.  Please thank them!

Here she is washing her hands at one of the washing stations.  What a great idea to reduce traffic to washrooms, and fill up your water bottle too!

And there is even a little sign at each table letting you know where to take your tray.

So exciting!!!

This is the first of it’s kind in Toronto, and won’t be the last, but Toronto wasn’t the first to offer this new aged food court.  I had been planning to visit Oakville Place, which led the way in Ontario opening it’s new food court in June 2009.  It was all over the headlines that they had ‘gone green’.  Customers were given the choice of reusable or disposable dinnerware, and they reported that 9 out of 10 chose reusable.  Cadillac Fairview, the same company that re-did the Eaton Centre, revamped the food court at Carrefour Lavalin Quebec in November 2009.  Oxford Properties has redone the food court at Yorkdale Shopping Centre which recently opened.

When I was searching for articles on new food courts, I was surprised to find few headlines focused on the new green option and that most of them focussed on the the updated look, and the new upscale eateries including a vegan option.  The fact that food was being served in real dishes and that waste was being reduced by 85% barely registered more than two or three sentences in most articles, which I found very disappointing.  No praises for placing the environment ahead of ‘convenience’, for thinking of the future.  I’m surprised that the decor outshadowed the obviously huge step towards sustainable fast-food eating, and wonder what that says about our society or our journalists….

Well, I for one, am so very thankful that we can have our cake and eat it without creating excess garbage.  We shouldn’t have to choose between eating or creating garbage, and now we don’t have to.

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Nothing bothers me like the commercials that have duped millions of us into using disposable products.  We have the ‘most absorbent’ paper towel, they claim.  Our paper towel absorbs like a sponge!  Really?  Do you know which towel is the most absorbent?  I do.  A real towel!  And if you need a sponge how about using… a sponge?  Brilliant!  I’m surprised more people don’t see through it.

If you are wanting to reduce the disposables in your household and don’t know where to start, many people find that eliminating paper towels is an easy first step.  Most of us have something that will do in their place, such as tea towels, old rags, or just a plain sponge.  In fact, after some thought, many people wonder why they depended on paper towels in the first place.  Most people find they can go cold turkey, and others have a roll around just in case of emergencies.

Paper towels were never really a part of my household growing up.  My parents had a roll around, but they never touched it.  They always had rags and sponges handy for everyday messes.  The only time I remember them ever using paper towels was for soaking up the oil from deep fried foods such as egg rolls or prawn crackers at Chinese New Year’s.  Otherwise, the roll of paper towel sat unused on top of the fridge, and probably sat there for several years.

Needless to say, I never got into the habit of using paper towels either.  I do have a two-pack of 100% recycled and unbleached paper towels (so I can compost it easily and safely) sitting around that lasts me about a year or more.  I use it for ’emergencies’ like picking up cat puke and nice things like that. (If I didn’t have a cat, it would probably last me many years as well.) Otherwise regular messes are pretty much taken care of by my all-purpose cellulose sponge.  I prefer sponges over rags or tea towels for any type of cleaning because they’re absorbent, you can rinse them right away and you’re as good as new, and they don’t add to the laundry.

Some interesting statistics regarding paper products that I came across while surfing the topic:

  • 90% of North American households use paper towels
  • 3000 tonnes of waste generated by paper towels are disposed of every single day
  • it takes 324L of water to produce 1 kg of paper
  • one tonne recycled paper saves 60% energy, 17 trees, 682 gallons of oil, 7000 gallons of water, and 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space
  • North Americans uses more than 700lbs of paper products per capita per year, compared with the world average of 94lbs.

We don’t need to use trees, the lungs of our planet, to clean up our messes, do we?  Having said that however, there is a whole new market out there trying to sell ‘reuseable paper towels’, which really irks me, even if the company is ‘green’.  Do we really need to replace one product with another?  A rag is a rag, is a rag.

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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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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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For those of you who don’t know David Suzuki, he is Canada’s foremost environmentalist.  A scientist, author, and prominent media figure, he has been educating Canadians about science and the environment since the 60’s, mainly through his long-running series of more than 30 years, The Nature of Things, which is also well-known internationally.  When CBC had their Top 10 Greatest Canadians vote in 2004, David Suzuki came in 5th, after Tommy Douglas, Terry Fox, Pierre Trudeau and Sir Frederick Banting.  That actually put him, an environmentalist, as the No. 1 Greatest Living Canadian.  Yeah!

Back in October, I took my daughter to see David Suzuki at Harbourfront give a talk about his latest book, The Legacy.  I heard him speak a few years ago at U of T, and I wanted my daughter to have a chance to hear and meet this amazing person.  She is only 7, but I have heard that there may be fewer opportunities to hear him speak in person, not because of his age or health, but because he feels it’s about time he reduced the environmental impact of his flying around the world.

With 'David Suzuki' at the Green Living Show, 2007

It was special for us because I took along a a picture I had of my daughter with ‘him’ (a cardboard cut-out) at the Green Living Show from a few years ago to show him. He laughed when he saw it, and was more than happy to have her take a picture with the ‘real thing’.   My brother had also given her one of his children’s books, There’s a Barnyard in my Bedroom, for one of her birthdays, so it was nice to get that signed as well.

Hearing David Suzuki speak is unlike watching his show, The Nature of Things. He is far more passionate and free to talk from the heart.  He has such a gift for simplifying science and the environment and making it captivating and easy to understand.  Even my daughter seemed to follow a lot of what he was saying.  I know I have had many epiphanies listening to him talk or reading his books.  The man is truly brilliant.  Meeting him, you can also feel his kindness and warmth.  You feel he is truly a person who cares about the planet and its people.

I am sure many of you have fond memories of watching The Nature of Things, and of David Suzuki growing up.  I remember the first time I saw his show in my Grade 6 class almost 30 years ago.  His image has been firmly implanted in my brain ever since, as I am sure it has in every Canadian.  David Suzuki has changed the way everyone in this country thinks about the Earth and our balance within it.  His influence is immeasurable.

Getting book signed by the real thing at Harbourfront, October 2010

On March 24th, 2011 David Suzuki is turning 75.  If you have fond memories of David Suzuki, and appreciate how much he has dedicated his life to educating us, and to protecting us and our planet, help celebrate his 75th birthday by making a donation on my sponsor page.  It’s part of a campaign to raise money for The David Suzuki Foundation in celebration of this remarkable man.  Show your support for David, and help the foundation continue to make changes to help protect the diversity of nature and the quality of life in Canada.  Sponsor me today.

Happy 75th Birthday, David Suzuki!

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So first, I must confess.  I did use wrapping paper for the gifts this year.  Not thinking, the bargain-hunter in me bought five rolls of it during last year’s Boxing Day sales, so it was just sitting there looking at me guiltily.  Also, I had not thought ahead to how I was going to make this a non-disposable Christmas.  I don’t like using newsapaper as it stains the fingers, and I didn’t have a stash of shiny flyers to use because I don’t get many of them where I live.  I thought of making fabric gift bags, but just didn’t have enough time left for that.  It would also have meant spending a lot of money on fabric to wrap the gifts in.  But I do have paper gift bags that I reuse every year, as well as boxes and wrapping tissue.

So, for next year’s gifts, I plan to collect as much potential gift wrapping as possible, mostly in the form of reused fabric.  I did wrap a few gifts with just a square piece of fabric.  Tea towels would probably do as well and make a double-gift.  I love the microfibre cloths for their bright colours, and they dry dishes instantly.  And if you wanted to be extra sure that gifts aren’t open before Christmas Day, you could potentially sew them up!

A lot of the gifts I gave this year did bear an environmental theme.  (If you are friend or family, you might want to wait until after Christmas to read this paragraph!)  I’ve given quite a few Envirosax reusable shopping bags, and the World’s Best Pot Scrubber (the one in the link bears a different name) – I’ve been using the same scrubber for over a year now and they really are fantastic!  Even my friends rave about it when they do my dishes.  At work, I gave dishes and cutlery to co-workers who were still using paper plates at staff luncheons.  I found them at the thrift store and had fun matching patterns to potential recipients.  I gave my Uncle’s family a stack of melamine plates and forks for family dinners so they won’t have to resort to using paper plates and plastic forks the next time we’re over.  And to my two cousins one each of David Suzuki and Al Gore’s eye-opening books.  My daughter also re-gifted a few of her toys, books and games to her friends, which was terrific.  Speaking of which, my daughter asked for mostly non-packaged gifts this year.  No more Littlest Pet Shop, yeah!

Since we were going to be home this Christmas and are hosting Christmas dinner, we also chose to get a real tree as the most environmentally friendly option.  That was  a tough one and there is no perfect answer.  I was considering getting a potted tree that I could plant in the yard, but it turns out that the tree could only stay inside a few days, and the survival rate of the tree would have been very low if I tried to plant it.  Of course, we could forgo the tree altogether.  We certainly won’t get a tree next time if we plan to be away for Christmas.

We didn’t have any garlands for the tree, so instead of buying tinsel, we decided to string popcorn instead.  We’ll put it out for the birds after Christmas.  Next year, we’ll have to try stringing cranberries too.  Fun, and smells so yummy!

What else?  As I only have four dinner plates, I’ll be using Mom’s Corelle dinner plates Christmas Day.  She has a whole stack of them for family dinners.  The great thing about Corelle is that they are 100% glass, and they are so thin they don’t take up much room to store, which is perfect for my small kitchen.  I’ll have to watch for sales and get my own stack for special events.  And of course, we’ll be using cloth napkins.

So, I get a thumbs-down on the wrapping paper this year, but am definitely planning to make next Christmas a non-disposable holiday.

All the best to you and your family,

Grace & Hannah

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