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Posts Tagged ‘non-disposable’

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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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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I started this blog over a week ago, and I’m already getting lots of inquiries on how I’ve reduced my garbage.  So, I thought I’d intersperse my more serious posts with some practical posts as well.

Let me first start by saying, that there are only two of us in the household, myself and my daughter who is seven.  Regardless, if there were another adult, I don’t think it would make a huge difference in terms of garbage because I’ve made sure to replace most things disposable with reusable.

These are the napkins on our dinner table today

The first change I made was with napkins, facial tissue and paper towel.  Growing up, my parents were frugal to the point of splicing up folded paper napkins into single layers to make them last longer, we never used paper towel, and my Dad would berate me if it took more than one tissue to blow my nose.  Needless to say, I grew up with a keen awareness of wastefulness.

One day I was browsing on Etsy, which is a great place for finding eco-conscious people making hand-made reusable items, and I came across people selling really cute cotton napkins.  A light went off in my head, and I dug through my fabric stash for leftover ends of my favourite fabrics.  Not only was making napkins something I could do easily, it gave me something to make out of my favourite scraps that I could enjoy everyday, yippee!

The napkins I made weren’t the full-sized 16-inch napkins for your formal dinner table.  That would be too big for everyday use, and would add up to a lot of laundry.  I simply took a metre of fabric which already comes folded in half, and folded it in half lengthwise again so you end up with one long length of folded fabric.  Then taking a squared up edge, I just cut the fabric up into squares by folding triangles and cutting along the edge – like cutting a square out of a rectangular piece of paper.  Quick and easy, no measuring, and it should give you 12 to 16 napkins about the size of facial tissue, which is big enough.  Then simply hem up the edges and you are done!

 

Our newest sets of napkins

Well, you might be asking, does it make for much laundry?  Heck no.  If I throw the napkins in with the weekly load, it barely adds up to a t-shirt.  I also find, if you aren’t eating messy meals, you might use the same napkin for the whole day before tossing it in the laundry basket, so it’ll be even less.  No garbage, barely any laundry.  It feels good!

And of course, you don’t have to stop at napkins.  You can do this for your facial tissue (otherwise known as hankies!), and for your paper towels.  Find a really soft fabric for your hankies, and old clothes and sheets make great towels to have handy for wiping.  Make sure all fabrics for your projects are 100% natural, and organic is great too if you can.  You can also choose from knits, flannel and terry as well.  I like to make a set of dark colours and a set of light colours for everything, so that I’m always washing no matter which load of laundry I am doing (I only do laundry once a week).

 

Basket of hankies, made from a well-worn, very soft sheet.

But here’s the real unexpected benefit to using your own hand-made reusable stuff, and it isn’t just in the feel-good about eliminating most of your paper-based garbage, the trees you are saving, or the money you are saving by skipping the tissue/napkin/paper towel aisle at the store….

How often have you gone out to buy disposable paper products and had fun???  Did you oooh and ahhh over the colours and patterns, feel them for softness, discuss their absorbency and tell your friends how excited you are about your next purchase?  Did you plan a trip to the store just to buy the exact colours to suit your mood or style?  When you got them home, did you show them off to your spouse, express how excited you were and how you couldn’t wait to use them?  And every time you did reach out to use one, did you have warm, fuzzy feelings inside?

Making your own stuff brings you pleasure that buying manufactured disposable products don”t.  Disposable products, meant to create convenience, kill creativity, excitement and enjoyment.  Making your own stuff, or buying hand-made if you don’t sew, brings that back to all the little things you do.  At least, that is what I am finding.

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