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Posts Tagged ‘disposable’

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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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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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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As we enter a new year, I want to challenge everyone to reduce their garbage.  Reducing your garbage is really about reducing consumption – the consumption of disposable, one-time-use products – and has far-reaching benefits.  Read about the many benefits in my previous post, Disposing of Disposables.

According to Heather Rogers’ Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage, , 80 percent of US products are used once and then thrown away!  Isn’t that a shocking statistic?  It means that 80% of our natural resources have been used up to make something that we will just throw away.  See a list of one-time-use products in my post, Ten Minutes or Less.  This statistic really puts a shameful light on the way our economy is based on creating a need for consumable products.  It doesn’t have to be that way….

When we take from the Earth, we also need to give back to it.  We need to return to the wisdom of ancient peoples, who understood and respected what the Earth gave us, and never took more than could be replenished. That is real sustainability.  That is one of the things I want to explore in this project.   Can I reduce my impact to the point that I am not taking away more than the Earth can give back, and how do I define that?

As the holidays approached, I have gotten busy and a little lazy.  So for the New Year, I am getting back on the bandwagon and challenging myself to reduce my garbage even further than I have.  Can I reduce my garbage down to say, just one bag a month?  How do I define what is garbage and what is not?  Others have already gone down the path to no garbage, so I’ll be looking to them for guidelines.  In the meanwhile, I’ll keep a weekly track and tally of the garbage that I produce, including compost.

And how about you?  Can you find one disposable item to reject, and start reducing your garbage?  Can you look into your garbage bag and see what kind of garbage you are producing and make a change?  Read about all the benefits in my previous post, Disposing of Disposables.  I hope you will join me in my efforts to make this a Non-Disposable Earth.

Happy New Year!

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Well, Christmas Day went over exceedingly well.  This was the first time I prepared an authentic Christmas dinner for the family – usually it’s a Chinese-interpretation of what turkey dinner is, prepared by my parents.  I did everything from stuffing the turkey, to cranberry sauce, to real gravy, yum!

Gift-wise, that went successfully too.  Mom nagged me all day about getting her a World’s Best Pot Scrubber like mine, and to her surprise, everyone got one under the tree.  The melamine plates went over really well by my Uncle and Aunt, and the Al Gore and David Suzuki books seemed to arouse genuine curiosity with the cousins.  Most of my daughters’ gifts were unpackaged toys, except for a few, and she noticed that right away.   And the traditional exchange of red envelopes carries over to Christmas, so gifts from the elders was also package-less.  I still feel guilty over the wrapping paper, but I saved at least half of it to use again next year.  The little pieces will be great for those smaller gifts that my daughter likes to wrap.  I even managed to save a few with tags intact for next year!  That greatly reduced the amount of paper I had to recycle.

As we cleaned up dinner last night, and as I peered into the fridge packed with leftovers today, I wondered, what about food waste?  How big an issue is that?  I know that living in a small household such as mine, if I don’t eat the food and my daughter doesn’t eat the food, no one else will.  So often, things get left uneaten and I waste more than I care to admit.

I try to console myself by saying it is being composted, but I know that the issue is bigger than that.  For every bit of food that I waste, I am throwing away all the energy that it took to grow the food, transport the food, keep the food at the right temperature, and then to transport the waste, and compost it at a facility.  Not to mention the energy that it took for me to make the money to buy the food, and the energy that I used to get it home, keep it cool in my fridge, and cook it if it was leftovers.

Interestingly enough, the day after Christmas, there was an article in the Toronto Star today entitled How we waste food which describes the problem in detail, including how much food goes uneaten in households and wasted in the food industry.  In the day that of hunter-gatherers, wasting food was not a problem.  You picked it, you ate it, if you didn’t eat it, it went straight back into the ground.  However, today it seems we are so far removed from food production, and food production has been so mechanized, that eating an apple today is many, many times more energy consuming than it used to be to just pick it off your tree.  And if the food has been further processed, the impact is even greater.  Composting is not the energy-free process it should be either.  The whole process seems almost ridiculous, really.  Food should be much simpler.  That is one of the reasons why eating local is so important to me, and I am going to try to continue eating local as much as I can over the winter.  I already decided a few years ago to definitely avoid anything that was grown overseas.  Oranges shouldn’t be coming from Africa.  However, I do make exceptions if it’s just an occasional treat that is grown in season and can’t be grown locally.

As the New Year approaches, one of my Non-Disposable Earth Project goals will be to reduce the waste of food.  I am not sure how I am going to do that, as it is a multi-faceted problem, unlike replacing paper napkins with cloth ones.  I will have to be careful not to prepare too much food, which I think I can handle.  But trying not to have too much food in the fridge is a little trickier, as it is dependent on when I have time to pick up groceries.  Then there is the issue of pleasing household tastes, i.e. we don’t both like to eat the same thing, so some waste goes along with that too.  And from day to day, I don’t always want to eat the same thing.  It will be tricky, but I think I there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Finally, although I think it is great that we have municipal composting in Toronto, I still feel a little pang of guilt that I’m not doing my own composting.  Doing your own composting requires zero carbon output, unless you count the output from your own elbow grease.  Also, after scooping up some of the free city compost this spring and finding much foreign matter in it including bits of plastic bag and broken glass, I don’t trust the city compost anymore.  So I’ve been toying with the idea of worm composting – indoor composting in a small bin at home.  If I can find the room for it in my small kitchen.  I’d love to find someone who already does it and see what it’s like.  More on that as it develops.

So what have I learned this holiday?  That I even have to add food to my list of non-disposables so that food can complete the cycle of land to plate and back to the land in the most efficient, least wasteful manner possible.

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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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