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Posts Tagged ‘waste’

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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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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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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In Colin Beavan’s book, No Impact Man, I read a statistic that really stunned me.  He states that according to Heather Rogers’ Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage, 80 percent of US products are used once, then thrown away! At first, I thought that this was an exaggeration.  But on close examination, I realized that it was true.

So, I thought it would be great to start this project by first really becoming aware of all the waste we do produce.  I am going to try and list everything that I can think of that was designed to be used only once, including a sub-category of products that can potentially be used for ten minutes or less.  I invite you to really open your eyes and be aware of the waste generated around you, and add to this list as you go throughout your day.

Ten minutes or less:

  • fast food/take-out containers (plastic, styrofoam, paper)
  • disposable utensils (plastic, wood)
  • plastic or paper wrapping for utensils
  • plastic sushi grass
  • napkins
  • paper tray liners
  • fast food bags (paper or plastic) to bring your food ‘all the way’ to your seat
  • take-out cups (plastic, styrofoam, paper)
  • plastic lids for the cups
  • plastic drink bottles
  • glass drink bottles
  • juice boxes
  • drink pouches
  • straws
  • paper wrapping for straws
  • coffee stir sticks (plastic, wood)
  • paper condiment cups
  • toilet paper
  • facial tissue
  • paper towel
  • wet napkins
  • make-up removal pads
  • disposable plates (paper, styrofoam)
  • flyers
  • brochures
  • poop and scoop bags
  • syringes and other sterilized medical supplies
  • cigarette butts

Usually tossed out the same day:

  • newspapers
  • pizza boxes
  • frozen food trays and packaging
  • sandwich bags
  • party streamers
  • party hats
  • glow in the dark novelties
  • diapers
  • styrofoam and plastic wrap that comes with meat purchases
  • feminine napkins
  • tampons
  • condoms

Other one-use items:

  • product packaging outside (plastic, paper)
  • product packaging inside (plastic, paper, styrofoam, metal)
  • styrofoam peanuts
  • bubble wrap
  • envelopes
  • price tags
  • magazines
  • plastic shopping bags
  • paper shopping bags
  • plastic produce bags
  • plastic wrap
  • plastic clamshell containers
  • plastic netting for produce
  • milk and juice cartons
  • tin cans
  • egg cartons (paper, styrofoam, and now plastic)
  • washed lettuce and prepared salad containers
  • prepared meat containers
  • baked good containers
  • plastic cake containers
  • cardboard under the prepared cake
  • syringes
  • packaging for syringes and other sterillized medical supplies
  • balloons
  • ribbons
  • gift wrap
  • coupons
  • tickets
  • receipts
  • toothbrushes
  • disposable razors
  • razor blades
  • batteries
  • hotel soaps and toiletries
  • paper or plastic bags wrapped around hotel glasses
  • candy wrappers
  • disposable sweeping and mopping pads
  • disposable wash cloths
  • lipstick containers
  • make-up containers
  • lip balm containers
  • make-up sponges
  • ‘socks’ you use to try on shoes
  • any bottle/container that was not meant to be refilled (eg. everything from shampoo to dish detergent, to condiments, etc.)

The lists can go on and on and I plan to add to it.  At this moment, I can only think of the things that I come into contact with myself, so feel free to add your two cents to the list!

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