The grossness of this offense comes second only to the 2012 social media meltdown of German grocer Billa, who went so far as to pre-peel bananas and rewrap their delicate, browning, exposed interiors inside of cellophane-sealed styrofoam trays, meatslab style.
But the silver lining on these tragedies is how they were received by social media. The public put these companies on blast. Fast. The action taken to correct the crime was as immediate, in both cases, as the outrage spreading virally online. So rest assured, any future packaging catastrophes will be promptly put to rest, and justice will be served, in the timeless form of public humiliation, so long as we have social media.
You know when you go out to dinner and order an entree the size of a child because you’re super hungry, but you only end up eating maybe half, so you decide to wrap up whatever’s left and take it home with you for later, because you don’t want to be wasteful. Well, as noble as you were not to waste the food you didn’t finish, your efforts to eliminate your waste were ultimately fruitless, once you factor in the heap of single-use foil and plastic that was used to wrap your food.
Last weekend at work, my coworker / close friend Radhika confessed a crime we’ve all been guilty of at times. “You won’t believe it, Dakota,” she said. This was her story (maybe not verbatim, but here’s the gist):
“Yesterday, I ordered sushi next door for lunch, as usual. Six cucumber rolls, some ginger and wasabi, and soy sauce, of course. I took it to go. It cost less than five dollars and took me less than five minutes to eat, and I walked less than twenty feet to eat it. The entire meal could fit in my hand, and yet, after I finished, I was left with the plastic box the sushi came in, two plastic ginger containers, one plastic container for wasabi, two plastic packets of soy sauce, single-use wooden chopsticks and the paper they were wrapped in, napkins, and the bag all of it came in. There was more plastic than there was sushi.”
A lot of damage for a less-than-five-minute / less-than-five-dollar / less-than-twenty-feet-take-away meal.
The guilt was all too real for Radhika, but most people don’t think twice about the amount of waste we use to move our food around. Especially when all those items could have been replaced with reusable ones. So I went to the Japanese dollar store, one of my guilty pleasures, and supplied my sushi-fiending friend the reusable versions of all the items she listed wasting on her favorite lunch. And we got sushi. It was waste-free, guilt-free and delicious. Here’s what it looked like.
And all I had to do was make room in my bag for just a little bit more crap, and ask the man taking my order at the sushi place to please use my own containers for our food. I told him which containers were for which items, asked if they would fit, and voila. No waste. We ate, rinsed our containers, and threw nothing away. It tastes better that way. Savor the taste of zero-waste, today. Here’s how:
Before leaving your house, ask yourself if you might a) stop for groceries, or b) go out somewhere to eat / pick up a beverage or food to go. Then pack accordingly.
If you might be picking up groceries, bring your own reusable shopping bags and reusable produce bags.
If you might be going out to eat, chances are, you’re going to take some leftovers to go. Bring your own to-go containers. I use glass containers with airtight, snappy lids so liquid contents don’t leak all over my shit. I bought microwave-safe ones so I can just open it up and nuke it later in the same container, so I don’t have to dirty an extra dish.
If you’ve ever worked in the food service industry, you’ve probably enjoyed the exhilarating task of rolling roll-ups, or sets of forks, knives and spoons (optional) rolled up in napkins. Bring your own roll-ups for snacks and meals on the go, including whatever utensils you may need and a hand towel, a cloth one, so you can wash and reuse all of the above.
If you’re hosting or attending a dinner at your or someone else’s home, bring or provide your own set of to-go containers, enough for everyone attending, to distribute leftovers for guests to bring home with them, so no food and no food-wrap-or-containers go to waste.
It may sound like a hassle, but if one extra step is what it takes to make this world a cleaner place, isn’t it worth it? Remember bringing your lunch box to school as a kid? Why did we stop? It’s not like we stopped eating lunch. So if you eat lunch, bring your own box.
This year, I’m wishing Merry Christmas to my customers at Summit Coffee by walking my talk and giving the gift of sustainability. In the spirit of Gandhi, and Summit Coffee, I’m being the change I wish to see in this world by forcing reusable plastic travel mugs on all our regulars.I love the coffee shop I work at, and I’m proud to caffeinate Redwood City’s finest coffee fiends, but I would be prouder without the hundreds of paper cups and plastic lids we fill our trashcans with. I’m just as responsible for contributing hundreds of paper cups as our customers are. If I want the world to be more sustainable about consuming coffee, I can’t wait for everyone else to decide to switch to travel mugs. I, the barista, have to be the change. If I don’t want to see to-go cups go to waste, it’s my job to refuse to waste them. It’s my responsibility to offer an alternative. So I’m converting customers to travel mugs, one cup of coffee at a time.This marks the first year of a hopefully lifelong tradition I plan to carry to my future coffee shop. Most coffee shops offer some kind of customer loyalty reward, but why not reward regular customers with a free reusable travel mug? They’re the ones who come in every day. Sure, it’s not cheap. It’s an investment. Just think of the money you’ll save on the long-run on hundreds of single-use to-go cups. Just think of the business your commitment to sustainability will bring you. Just think of the waste your coffee shop won’t be contributing. One person behind the counter in one coffee shop touches the lives of hundreds of customers every day. It’s that easy to make a difference.
If you want to see a change in this world, you have to be the change. So be it.
Consumer driven holidays make paper. We the people pour billions of dollars into the holidays, and paper is made, indeed. But that’s not the paper that this blog post is about. Lots of paper is spent buying gifts, but lots of paper is also wasted wrapping them.
Every Christmas, you can find me scavenging the family room floor for reusable scraps of wrapping paper. When I unwrap my gifts, I carefully untape the paper and fold it neatly in a stack. I cringe every time someone else rips their wrapping open, because I know the paper is wasted. But whatever I can salvage, I do. I’ve hoarded quite the collection over the years. At this rate, I should never need to buy a another roll.
But I’m just one person, and most people don’t hoard used wrapping paper. The vast majority gets shoved in the recycling or garbage, or fireplace. But maybe it’s time for a new trend. A cute one, too. This year, instead of wrapping my presents in customary Christmas paper, I’m wrapping mine in fabric. Why? Because it cuts out so much of my waste. As usual, I will be found sifting the rubble of my family’s traditional Christmas-present-opening ritual for less-traditional leftover fabric, and scraps of other people’s wrapping paper for next year.Use what you have left of last year’s wrapping paper, by all means. But whenever you run out, instead of buying a new roll of paper, consider replacing it with a roll of fabric. Fabric comes in all varieties of prints and colors, just like paper, but unlike wrapping paper, fabric is washable and durable, and, thus, easily reusable.
Considering your gifts will vary in size, one disadvantage of using fabric is that, unlike paper, you cannot trim the fabric to fit it to each gift. Instead, I just fold it to fit it, and tie it up with a ribbon. Cutting the fabric to fit a gift this year means it’s less likely to fit another gift next year. If you decide to fabric-wrap, I recommend you keep an assortment of small, medium and large pieces. Large squares should be big enough to cover boxes. Medium should be big enough to cover folded clothes. Small should be big enough to cover something small. If you’re left with extra fabric, tuck it under the ribbon you use to tie it, to keep it folded tight. And voila, environmentally sustainable gift-wrapping.
Lastly, one thing that’s key to reusing wrapping fabric is actually getting it back after distributing your gifts. Just be weird and tell your friends and family you need to hoard your fabric back for future reuse. If you’re sending gifts long distance, or they won’t be opened in your presence, just ask their recipients to a) save the paper and return it back to you when they next see you, or b) save and reuse that shit themselves.
Looking for the perfect gift for a skater this holiday season? Look no further. Two local sweethearts, Tait Detro and Margot Czeropski (both 23), built a skate business like no other, out of scraps and locally sourced, secondhand materials. Behold, Potaito Boards, the environmentally sustainable skateboard manufacturer that’s reducing the carbon skate tracks of the skating community, one sale at a time.
According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Detro began building his own decks out of scraps in his dad’s wood shop in East Palo Alto when he was 14, and “hasn’t owned a deck he didn’t make himself since” (Ibarra). Detro’s scavenging resourcefulness, combined with his and Margot’s frustration with the “glut of wood-veneer boards on the market” (Ibarra) sparked the flame that ignited this business into the operation it is now. As espressed on their website:
“…What’s the point of making beautiful shred-machines if we can’t do so in an Earth-friendly way? We pride ourselves in our dedication to environmental stewardship, building each longboard with sustainability in mind. Every deck is built from 100% high quality repurposed materials that would have otherwise gone to waste.”
So far, Potaito Boards are available for sale online on their website, and also in three retail locations: Berdels, Santa Cruz; Black Diamond Sports, Palo Alto; and Skateworks, Los Altos. They offer “3 different models… all designed to optimize ride quality,” thanks to their “unique lamination method [that] allows us to design each board with varying concave, camber, and kick for its specific riding style,” as stated on their website.
But,of course, the cherry on top of that sweet ride is the sustainability embedded in its US-manufactured wheels and locally sourced, recycled wood. Not only will your purchase be an awesome gift for a skater you love, but also a gift to the planet you live on, and an investment in a business dedicated to sustainability, so your loved one can “ride assured” knowing their board was constructed by the hands of people building toward a better world.
Gift-giving is always a gamble. There’s no guarantee the person receiving your gift will like or use it. You’re just giving them the option, if they want it. So take advantage of this solid opportunity to force unwanted crap on somebody you love to supply them with the tools they need, should they decide to utilize them, to make this world a better place for all of us, one meal / beverage at a time. Let your present double as a present to this planet, and by extension to yourself, by giving the gift of sustainability.
New parents describe their babies as eating, shitting machines, but to my knowledge, adults carry right on eating and shitting just the same. The only difference is adults have more responsibilities to tend to in between shitting and eating. Feeding ourselves is a lifelong commitment, and requires all kinds of equipment. Dishes, cups, utensils, containers to store leftover food, bags to haul our groceries home, etcetera. More and more of these materials are being produced for single use. To-go cups. Fast food packaging. “Disposable” serving utensils and shopping bags.
But there’s no such thing as “disposable.” Diverting garbage to the dumps so we don’t see it doesn’t make it disappear. We can’t sweep our waste under the rugs forever. We’re running out of rugs. All we can do now is reduce our waste in any way we can, and there are many ways we can, all of which would make for awesome gifts. This year, your holiday shopping list should look something like this:
As a barista, the coffee shop I work at doles out hundreds of paper cups each day to customers taking their coffee to-go. And even if the cups are compostable, realistically, only a fraction of them will be composted. The majority will likely wind up in the garbage, and a fair amount are fated to be litter. And that’s just one coffee shop. Multiply that by all the coffee shops combined and all the days that they’ve been open. That’s a lot of coffee cups.
An individual who drinks at least one cup of coffee every day contributes at least 365 paper cups every year. Reduce this number to one by investing in a cup that’s built for infinite refills, one cup to do the work of hundreds. Behold, the mighty travel mug.
And like your loved ones, and unlike plain white paper cups (or even worse, the dreaded #RedStarbucksCups), travel mugs come in all varieties of color, shape and size. Handle. No handle. Any material. Ceramic, for the folks who forget about their coffee until it’s cold and need to nuke it. Metal or plastic for gravitationally challenged folks who have yet to fully grasp the art of holding onto things.
Color, design and prints are also solid opportunities to espress what makes that person special—their interests or favorite animals. Note: whatever words or images are printed on your loved one’s travel mug will be their constant companion, staring back at them every morning from across their desk, or warming their hands while they step outside for a coffee break, or whatever their morning ritual may be. So keep in mind, whatever message is embedded in the graphic of their travel mug better be something they’d like to look at.
And whatever you do, don’t get a travel mug from Starbucks.
Last year, I asked for travel mugs for Christmas, and my Mama faithfully delivered. She’s a huge supporter of artists on Etsy, so I picked out a few. Here they are in action:
The reusable coffee sleeve goes hand in hand with your loved one’s new travel mug. However, if travel mugs are out of your price range, reusable coffee sleeves serve as a more affordable alternative. If a paper to-go cup must be used, at the very least, saving a sleeve every day makes a difference. Also, another opportunity to a) support an artist by buying one, or b) get crafty and sew your own.
LOOSE LEAF TEA INFUSER
Travel mugs and sleeves are not exclusively for coffee lovers. Tea drinkers are just as guilty of contributing wasted to-go cups as coffee fiends, but even worse, most tea bags are individually wrapped in what is ultimately garbage (non-recyclable wrapping). So take an extra step to convert your loved one to loose leaf tea.
Some tumblers are sold with built-in loose leaf tea infusers. Infusers are also sold individually, that are compatible with any cup. Each cup of loose leaf tea equates to one less wrapper, one less piece of trash.
LOOSE LEAF TEA
If you should decide to buy a loose leaf tea infuser for a loved one, you should consider pairing it with some loose leaf tea. Give them something yummy to steep in their new tea infuser.
Maybe your loved ones won’t use your gifts. Or maybe they will. But in any case, you’re leaving the door ajar for someone to become a more sustainable, waste-conscious eating-shitting machine. Happy Fat Saturday, and Happy Holidays. Purchase responsibly.
Two weeks after Halloween, the true horrors of the holiday have finally come to settle in the streets—strewn with the wreckage and debris of trick or treaters, who have long since fled the scene of their attacks, shed their disguises and swallowed what evidence remains of their neighborhood raids. However, not all evidence has been disposed of. In fact, a significant amount of it remains, scattered around the suburbs, like Willie Wonka’s ashes.
Candy wrappers have come to rest in every crevice, every crack in every sidewalk, and congested every storm-drain. Whatever waste didn’t drain to the bay in Monday’s rain now occupies the sidewalks, driveways, gardens, lawns and parks of Redwood City (where I live), as if to protest last week’s post on zero-waste consuming.
In stark contrast to the packaging-free grocery store in Germany I reported on last Saturday, as usual, the USA dedicates one day a year to celebrate the core and fundamental values and customs of this country—over-consumption, excessive waste, obesity and greed. Scary, indeed. Every October 31, children nationwide take to the streets, armed with empty bags to fill, and fill them they do. And the dumps and landfills too.
Dare we try to quantify the damage? Let’s do some mental math. How many households do you think participate in Halloween? Many of which supply several bags of candy. How many assorted bags in all were purchased on behalf of Halloween? How many individual “treats” does that amount to? Each one individually wrapped. How many candy wrappers had to be produced to satisfy the national demand? I honestly have no idea, but you can bet it isn’t zero. A far cry from the waste-free lifestyle that I described last Saturday.
Yet we persist this wasteful custom year to year. Even our holidays and family traditions have evolved to represent the wickedness of our ways—selfishness, entitlement, immediate gratification… Children marching house to house demanding candy, expecting it, and worse yet, receiving it. Their greeting is misleading: “Trick or Treat?” It’s a command under the pretense of a question. We reward them, and for what? Even my dog has to do a trick to earn a treat.
Dare I say (of course I do) conditioning our children in this way just cultivates an expectation of getting exactly what we want from strangers who don’t owe us anything, and has already manifested a sense of entitlement in my and prior generations. Just look at Elliot Rodger, or the Christian outcry for a more Christmas-specific Starbucks cup, as if the Christmas color scheme isn’t exclusive enough. Just look at all those little shits on leashes pretending to be kids that are actually just tantrum-throwing “Gimme-more!” machines, the spoiled seedlings of future consumers and budding CEOs of future corporations. Rapists.
But I digress. Halloween can’t be held accountable for our entitlement and arrogance. However, our holidays have been persistent perpetrators and purveyors of waste—Halloween candy wrappers, wrapping paper, chocolate Valentines—the list goes on. The US has a compulsive packaging obsession, and it’s about time we address it.
Next year, you’ll find me handing out kiwis, oranges and bananas, pre-packaged as they are in natural wrappers, 100% compostable, not to mention considerably more nutritious than a Snickers, and arguably even more delicious. I won’t be very popular, no doubt. No problem. More for me. And whatever I can’t finish, I’ll feed to the worms, and spare the landfills.
Having grown up in the U.S., I have established a clear and rigid understanding that any food I purchase must be pre-portioned and each portion individually enclosed in some kind of packaging or wrapper or container, that ultimately I must throw away, and that is essential to the foods’ preservation and, by extension, my survival. If I want cereal, I must purchase a box of cereal (which is recyclable) with a plastic bag of cereal inside it (not recyclable). And even though I only want a bowl or two, I have to buy the box. I probably won’t finish it, and it will expire. I might throw more than half of it away.
Humans today waste in the same manner we breathe in. We inhale oxygen because we need it to survive, and we replace each breath with CO2. We consume food and other products because we need them to survive, and we replace them all with waste. We consider the waste we create (and the carbon dioxide) an unfortunate side effect of an unconscious, involuntary, life-sustaining function — (…breathing, and) Consumption — our Wonder bread and butter.
It never occurred to me until recently that waste-free consumption could exist. What would a zero-waste world even look like? I’m glad you asked. For starters, there wouldn’t be islands made of garbage that are twice the size of Texas floating in our oceans. The ground you walk on might not be carpeted with litter, for a change. A zero-waste world would simply be more healthy, clean and beautiful.
But what the fuck would a zero-waste grocery store look like?
Good question. Don’t worry, we’ll show you, but before you scroll down and find out, try to imagine… How? How could products be contained and displayed without packaging? How would the shopper transport them? How would the cashier ring them up? They need to scan the barcode, which is on the label, which is on the packaging, which doesn’t exist. So how do they do it?
A grocery store in Germany — Original Unverpackt — has stepped up to the plate to show us how it’s done. Instead of aisles divided by towering walls of shelves stocked with boxes, cans and bottles, O.U. simply displays its fresh produce in crates and stores pasta, grain, cereal, beverages, etcetera in dispensers. The shopper comes prepared with their own reusable bags, bottles, jars and containers and fills them with any desired quantity — as much or little as they please. Like this:
Follow this revolutionary grocer on Instagram @originalunverpackt for regular reminders of what a waste-free life would look like:
If you have to see it to believe it, there it is.
So ask yourself, if this were available to you, would you take advantage? If Original Unverpackt opened a location close to you, would you shop there? How would you shop there? What would you need to do to become a waste-free consumer? Ironically, it turns out the first step to becoming a package-free consumer is purchasing your packaging. Reusable, of course. Including:
Jars: An ungodly amount of jars of all shapes and sizes that are durable, sealable and easy to clean. Use them to contain items like sugar, flour, pasta, rice, cereal, jelly, coffee beans, tea leaves, spices, etcetera.
Reusable Shopping Bags: To carry your groceries.
Reusable Produce Bags: To contain your produce.
Bottles: Durable, and easy to refill. Maybe a nice set of jugs, if that’s what you’re into.
Try adopting some of these zero-waste customs into your daily practice. Our world needs zero-waste, or as close to zero-waste as we can give her. So be conscious of the waste that you contribute. Reduce it when and where you can. Original Unverpackt makes zero-waste look easy. Cute, even. Germany demanded it; Original Unverpackt supplied it. If we could generate that same demand locally, and ultimately globally, just think how much waste we could eliminate.