I chair the Environmental Action Committee (EAC) at my school (ISPP). The committee consists of 10 students and 5 teachers. Our job is to promote sustainable practices and encourage students (and members of the community) to take action. Our school has recently revamped their strategic plan to include the environment as one of the three main themes and so we have a lot of support as we try to turn ideas into action. We’re stoked.
As one of our actions this year, we decided to target the largest event our school hosts, International Day. Over 1000 people attend this event and it is a celebration of our school’s cultural diversity. Naturally, the event also includes a lot of food which generates a lot of waste. The event organizers were very keen for our committee’s recommendations on how to green the event. We developed the rubric below and offered a cash incentive if food vendors could follow the guidelines set out.
I was very encouraged by the positive response from the vendors and they all stepped up to the plate on the day. Most of them transported their food in reusable containers with virtually no plastic waste. They also made a massive effort to ensure that their food could be eaten without plastic utensils. For the most part, they all used paper plates/packaging. I was extremely impressed by Tamarind restaurant who wrapped their food in banana leaves and committed to washing their own reusable plates and cutlery throughout the day.
My students also handed out banana leaves that they had carefully cut and cleaned to all the country booths and many of the visitors. The leaves really impressed people as a 100% natural alternative to the napkin or paper plate. Overall, I believe our small actions, and the support of the event organizers, helped reduce a great deal of non-biodegradable waste from entering the landfill (or dump).
Moving forward, this is what our committee would like to accomplish next year:
Provide the restaurants with concrete examples of plastic alternatives. Small plastic cups for sauces were common but could easily be replaced with paper baking cups.
Provide restaurants with washed banana leaves if they would like them.
Provide an incentive (prize) for country booths to follow our environmental guidelines
Create guidelines for sponsors – especially banning balloons.
Provide more stations for water bottle refill. There was only one and it was not visible. As a result, many plastic water bottles were sold. I’d love to see the plastic water bottle eliminated altogether from the event but that might present a problem with one of our sponsors.
Waste separation. Provide bins for collection of recyclables and organic waste.
Encourage visitors to bring reusable bottles/containers/utensils. Perhaps we could provide discounts on tickets if they do so.
We’ve completed week 1 of the plastic-free challenge and I’ve been very encouraged by the conversations I’ve started through this blog and through my conversations with friends and family. Collectively as a small community we’ve been reflecting on our consumption habits and have discussed simple ways to reduce plastic waste. It’s also been interesting to share insights with people from around the world and how our experiences with consumerism are very different. For example, it seems that people in certain European countries have many options to purchase items from cereal to laundry detergent by refilling containers from home. In Japan, it seems that the plastic packaging problem is worse where even bananas come in plastic bags. But no matter where we come from it’s nice to see a growing awareness of the issue and a desire to, as my mum says, “Refuse, Reduce, and Reuse.”
So far we’ve generated a small amount of plastic trash. A couple drinking straws (oops!) and two plastic sacs from items we already had in the house (raisins and lentils). We hope that we’ll create even less in the three weeks remaining. One thing I have noticed is that we’re generating much less trash in general. By eliminating plastic, we’ve eliminated much of our regular cardboard consumption. Often times we find that items packaged in cardboard often have some sort of plastic component such as a lining or a bag. It’s annoying because it seems unnecessary much of the time. So, as a result, we’re mostly accumulating organic waste.
The places I’ve been shopping or eating out at have been very understanding of my demands for no plastic. I’m obviously not the first person to rock up to the cheese counter with my own reusable container and I’m certainly not the first to refuse a straw or a plastic bag. Kudos to all of you out there who do this on a daily business and thank you to the local businesses who have been pioneering waste reduction initiatives.
Day 1 has come and gone and I have already broken the rules. Went out for lunch, innocently ordered a passion fruit juice aaaand forgot to say “no straw please.”
I’m not used to uttering this phrase and I’m sure many of my plastic drinking straws grace rubbish dumps and landfills around the world. So, I hope this digression has taught me to ask for no straws because I am oh-so ashamed.
Consequently, I’ve been thinking all day long: why the heck do we even use these things? A glass, one hand, lips and a small amount of coordination is really all you need to achieve the simple task of drinking. Unless, of course, you are lacking these things, then I see the absolute utility of the plastic drinking straw. But most of us can handle picking up a glass and bringing it to our lips. Ahhh, hydration.
OK, so it’s probably not the challenge of drinking that made the straw such a staple utensil in modern day society. Some sources I’ve perused on the internet suggest that straws became prevalent as a result of epidemics and the fear of unclean glassware. Perhaps. Even so, I don’t think the straw will provide much protection there. Not to mention we’ve made a few strides in the last century in the health and safety department.
Yet the straw persists. Wherever you eat, there it will be, in all its colourful plastic-y badness. It’ll spare your biceps a few calories of work and ensure that your lips don’t touch the glass. It will also outlive you and your children and their children and . . . you get the point.
So, this month, and hopefully all months after that, I will remember to say “no straw please.”
PS. If you think straws are really fun, paper straws are making a comeback! They also come in fun colours. I like to use bamboo straws for my smoothies and iced coffee drinks.