Take Out the Take Out

Today I went out for lunch to the local food court with two people from work.  As we walked up, I started to think about my lunch garbage.  Looking up at the various neon signs starting back at me, I realized that if I wanted to avoid Styrofoam (polystyrene foam), then my choices would be severely limited.

Of the 9 food outlets, 5 of them required the use of a Styrofoam container, 2 of them gave you Styrofoam for about half their meals and 2 of them were Styrofoam free.  So if you do the math, out of the hundreds of lunches that were pumped out each day, approximately 2/3s generate a Styrofoam container.  How many containers is that per lunch hour?  This is just one food court, out of many downtown, and many more throughout the city.  How many containers are thrown out per day, just in my city?  Then multiply that by 251 working days per year, then by the number of cities in North America, then by the number of years we have using Styrofoam…

Stop!  My head is spinning.

So on this day, I did not order a lunch with Styrofoam.  Normally I would have.  Today I did not.  What difference will my choice make?  How will my choosing to not use Styrofoam, among the mountains of Styrofoam produced each day, make a difference?  This is where I start to get weary.  Why even try if it doesn’t even make a difference?

Well I am voting with my dollars, by shopping at those establishments that have Earth-friendlier packaging.  If everyone did what I do, I am sure that these establishments would quickly get the message.

There are alternatives to Styrofoam.  There is a high density cardboard, which I have seen around town.  Why can’t food stores switch out?

Why?

I carried my non-Styrofoam lunch to a food court table to eat with my coworkers.  Looking down at my meal, I realized that even without the Styrofoam, I still had a napkin, a plastic fork, a paper plate and paper tray liner all to throw away.  It was the first time I had ever thought about this.

So much of our waste in landfills is due to single use items.  Napkins, drink cups, straws, coffee cups, hamburger wrappers, fry containers, Styrofoam containers… We just use ‘em then lose ‘em without a second thought.  Have you ever brought your family to McDonalds and looked at the tide of garbage on the tray afterwards?  We just open the shoot, dump ‘er in and away we go.

In grade eight there was a girl at school whose parents would go to McDonald’s and bring all their own dishes.  I am sure the McDonald’s workers were very confused.  How do you make a burger without putting it on the wrapper first?  How to you serve fries without the container that fits the fry dispenser?  How do you put a regular cup in the pop dispenser where paper cups should go?  Everyone at school talked about it.  I thought it was cool.  How brazen and defiant! 

But this was back in 1988, people.  It is not a new idea.

Today’s resolution – refuse napkins, forks/spoons/knives in stores (carry my own in my purse) and avoid Styrofoam.

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Toy Packaging

Garbage is especially appalling after a kid’s birthday party. Why do toys have to come with so much darn packaging? They all have an oversized cardboard box, and then clear plastic innards that hold the toy in the best display position so that it can be seen through the clear plastic window. If that was not enough, they then have about 10 twist ties holding the whole thing together from the inside. To top it all off, sometimes toys are even screwed in to the packaging, meaning you have to get out your screwdriver. It can take up to 10 minutes to unleash the thing from its unwieldy cage. Why do we need all that?

Well I suppose people like to see what they are buying. Apparently a picture on the box doesn’t suffice; we want to see the toy in the clear plastic window. In addition, a larger box lets you see all the cool things you can do with the toy, and sometimes gives you pictures of other toys you could also purchase that would make playing with this toy more fun. My 5-year old son always wants to save the box, he loves looking at them. But what if we got it in a reusable mesh bag, and then looked on the Internet together to see all the cool things the toy could do?

Do you know what kind of toys come with no packaging? – The ones from a garage sale or from goodwill. You just pick it up off the table, dust it off, pay a fraction of the price for it, and then toss it in your tote bag. How great is that? No packaging, ultra cheap, and to top it all off – you are reusing it. It is about as green as you can get.

At night after the kids go to bed, I try to go around the house and pick up and put away toys. Sometimes I just look at it all and think – where did this all come from? There are so many toys, and 90% of them are plastic. Probably 80% of them were purchased new. They are not in the landfill yet, but one day they probably will be. How many pounds of plastic will our toys take up in the landfill one day? It is something I have never even thought about until today. Not to mention those toys with the “don’t throw out” symbol on them, because they might contain heavy metals or something. I don’t know. What happens to these toys? I donate them to goodwill and then the next user just tosses them with abandon? What is the impact?

Today is one month until Christmas. More toys will come into our house; as will more packaging.

So today’s resolution is to scour 2nd hand stores for Christmas toys and stocking stuffers and toys this year. Santa doesn’t want his Arctic Ice meltin’!