CTWW: Talking Trash

In case you missed my update last Thursday about this week’s Change the World Wednesday Challenge from the Reduce Footprints blog, here it is:

This week do a 'waste audit' or ask a super green person you know to do one and help you see where you can do better in creating less waste. For guidelines on how to do an audit, read How to Reduce Your Household Waste.
There’s still time for you to pay attention to your own waste generation and do a one-day waste audit. For details on how the challenge works, click here. Or you could do it on your own once the challenge is over.

I didn’t do a full home waste audit as the challenge suggests, but instead simply paid attention to what habits generate waste and tried to make better choices. I documented the experience somewhat with photographs, and here is what I found.

I got Panda Express twice this week. Though the bowl meal I got here is recyclable and I ate all of the meal, it still generates something that ends up leaving my house in a can full of other waste. Because I ate this meal at home, I was able to use my own silverware, so at least I wasn’t wasting a plastic utensil or wooden chopsticks.

I chose to just have water with my meal from my hard plastic reusable bottle, so compared to someone else in my house who got a soda, I opted for healthier and waste-free. Tip: Opt for water in your own container to reduce waste, save money, and quench your thirst without slurping down calories and chemicals.

Here are the leftovers from this meal, the actual waste generated:
Two peppers, a plastic bowl, and a plastic lid. But it could have been just the peppers if I’d cooked this meal at home. Tip: Cooking meals at home can reduce your waste consumption if you aren’t planning ahead for that meal out. Eating take-out more often than not generates waste, so unless you have reusable containers ready to be filled with food from a restaurant, cooking at your house or eating at a restaurant with reusable containers for those eating in generates less waste.

Later in the week, on Sunday, I got Panda Express again on my way home from the mountains. This time, I didn’t have my own utensils, but I opted for the wooden chopsticks with the paper sleeve, which is at least biodegradable. As far as I understand, plastic utensils are rarely recyclable, except perhaps in places like San Francisco where they’ll recycle any hard plastics. I really need to start carrying my own silverware or find some lightweight utensils. Tip: Bring your own reusable utensils with you wherever you go, or if you must use disposal utensils, try to find the most recyclable or biodegradable option. They are now making wooden sporks and knives, which though still not the best option, are at least made of something that breaks down, especially compared to plastic.

Fortunately, Panda uses mostly paper for its to-go containers instead of plastic or the god-awful Styrofoam. Correction: Panda does use Styrofoam for their to-go containers. Bummer! My plate was paper, and the only thing that was plastic was the fortune cookie container. I suppose I could have opted for no fortune cookie, but they’re just so good!

My plate after eating out at Panda on Sunday:

As you can see, I also generated waste with the food I didn’t eat. I realized too late that chow mein is super filling, and with two servings of chicken on the other half of the plate, I just couldn’t manage the chow mein. I could have stuffed myself, I suppose, but sometimes it’s just too much. Tip: Don’t prepare or order more food than you know you will eat. Be conscious of how often you leave food waste on your plate after meals, and begin adjusting the amount you put on your plate if you know you never finish a meal. This not only reduces waste, it also saves you money and helps you avoid feeling overly full or eating excess calories. Try using smaller plates at home or taking small helpings and know you can go back for seconds.

Some other sources of waste generated since Thursday, and tips for how to eliminate these sources, include:

  • Paper napkins: These are such a common source of waste, but the issue is easily remedied by bringing your own cloth napkin(s) with you or having a bunch at home.
  • Paper towels: Similar to paper napkins, these are ubiquitous and often not composted because of the high amount of dry paper and not enough wet, carbon-rich material. Bring your own hand towels or stop buying them for your home and use dish towels or rags in the kitchen and bathroom. Better yet, air dry your hands! (Read more about paper towels in this article I wrote for the UCSC Sustainability Office newsletter.)
  • Disposable cups and cans: I went to my grandmother’s 75th birthday party this weekend in the mountains (Happy Birthday, Grandma!), and though I brought my reusable water bottle, a can of soda sounded like a good thirst-quencher, and later some juice in a red party cup sounded more refreshing than water. My mom had suggested having a recycling bag, so fortunately a lot (probably not all, unfortunately) of the recyclable waste from the party ended up in the recycling bin, including my empty soda can. The thing is, the soda wasn’t really worth it and water would have served me better. Bring your own lightweight cup to parties where you know you’ll want to drink more than water. If you can, or if you’re planning the party, offer to bring the drinks for everyone and get larger containers of drinks (preferably in glass—or homemade juice in reusable containers!) and alert everyone coming to the party to bring their own cups. Or purchase durable plastic or glass cups and don’t let anyone throw them away. Wash them and use them again for your next party.
  • Straws: I did use one straw this week, when I shared some of my sister’s soda. Plastic straws are so silly, and I usually avoid using them if I can. Read my suggestions for avoiding straws here.
There were certainly other sources of waste generated by me this week, but the above ones are the most common and frustrating. Fortunately, there are ways to eliminate these sources easily, and I hope my tips and suggestions are useful to you. If you have any other ideas for how to reduce these sources of waste, please let me know in the comments.

If you participated in CTWW this week, I look forward to reading about your experience on Wednesday once it’s posted on Reduce Footprints. If you didn’t, but you want to share your experience, feel free to post in the comments!

I’m on my way to UC Santa Cruz again today to table at new student orientation and hopefully inspire some students and their parents to make a sustainable pledge, join our office’s newsletter mailing list, and become a sustainable Banana Slug before they even attend their first class! For more on what the UC Santa Cruz Sustainability Office does, please visit our website or peruse our newsletters, which are compiled monthly by yours truly!

Thanks for reading! Stay green! Green Gal


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