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.
Living in suburban Redwood City, as I do, I’m under constant fire from my neighbors for parking in front of their houses, or picking their oranges, unforgivable offenses my neighbors refuse to tolerate. They typically attack with angry notes left on my windshield or gate, and the occasional nail gun to my tires, anything to avoid a direct confrontation. All but one of my neighbors have proven to be total dicks. All but Camel-puffing, hoodie-wearing Wes, the one and only neighborly neighbor I’ve yet to encounter on my block.
One of the most frustrating conundrums of my neighborhood has always been the oranges. I don’t even like oranges. I’ve always disliked them, since my childhood when I once unknowingly swallowed and choked on a couple seeds. I’ve avoided oranges ever since. Plus, I just don’t like oranges. But my neighborhood is full of orange trees. And one summer day, I was getting dehydrated on the long trek home from downtown and resorted to an orange out of sheer desperation. It was delicious, and more importantly, it was seedless.
I stalked my neighborhood, in hot pursuit of oranges, scoping out which trees were within reach of the sidewalk and taste-testing samples from each one for quality. Some were a bust, but other were just as yummy and seedless as the first, and none more so than the ones at Wes’s house, two doors down from mine. The conundrum of the oranges is that all of them reside, uneaten and untouched, teasing me from the private property of the neighbors who protect those wasted oranges with their lives.
Except for Wes. Among the many oranges I’ve stolen, I’ve also come up on a shopping basket from my local Safeway, which has come in very handy hauling other stolen goods. One morning, just over a year ago, I knocked on the neighbor’s door, basket in hand, oranges on branch, and Wes answered. I asked if I could pick some oranges. He said, “Sure, help yourself.”
This was probably the first time these three words were uttered on my street. And help myself, I did. I filled that basket.
Anyway, the other day, I received an anonymous bag of the best oranges on the Wes Coast, and I know who they’re from, and this is just to espress my thanks to Wes for being a good person in a sea of fucking assholes. He even apologized that one time his step-dad left a mean note on my car.
It’s that easy. If you’re a fucking asshole with an orange tree, ask yourself, would you really rather see that good fruit fall and rot on your front lawn than see the smile you could put on someone’s face if you would share? Wes may not be rich or famous, but he’s a good neighbor, and that’s more than a lot of Americans can say for themselves. Thank you, Wes. Hope you don’t mind I shared your story.
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.
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.