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Posts Tagged ‘garbage’

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

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    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
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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

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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!

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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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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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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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