We resolve never to purchase disposable cups, plates or utensils again. We resist buying paper towels, plastic baggies, and plastic wrap. We replace our worn plastic containers with non-toxic glass and stainless steel. It starts becoming easy to live a sustainable lifestyle at home.
But it gets tricky when we leave the house.
The ultimate zero-waste blunder
Recently at an event, I was handed a drink in a disposable plastic cup by a thoughtful acquaintance. I graciously accepted (after all, refusing the drink at this point after it was already poured seemed wasteful in itself). As luck would have it, Lauren Singer, the zero-waste maven behind the blog Trash is for Tossers, looked over and walked up to me (with her reusable cup of course). She didn’t mention the plastic cup in my hand, so I did. We talked about the predicament, and the encounter helped me think through some tips for your next outing.
Tips for refusing disposable cups on the go
Ever get thirsty at an event that only serves water in plastic bottles, without a drinking fountain in sight? Ever kick yourself because the drink you just ordered in a restaurant arrives in a single-use cup (and you’re reminded of the 25 billion coffee cups that end up in landfills every year)? Suddenly going green is not so easy, so keep in mind:
- Try to remember to carry a reusable cup in your bag (obvious, but easy to forget).
- When ordering at a restaurant (especially at a counter) always mention that you’d like your drink in a reusable cup just in case.
- If you’re at an event in someone’s home, seek out a reusable alternative if throw-away cups are the only options set out.
- Remember to be polite (no shaming) and helpful (if you use a kitchen cup, wash and return it to the cabinet). Your thoughtful intentions to lessen your environmental footprint won’t go unnoticed, especially if you are mindful about how you handle it.
- If disposable cups are your only option, ask yourself if you really need a drink, and remember that drinking fountains are a good standby.
But if you’re caught with the unavoidable single-use cup in your hand, like I was, Lauren’s advice was to enjoy the drink, be sure to reuse the cup at the event, and of course, recycle it.
It all started last year at Natural Products Expo West in Southern California, an inspiring event committed to sustainable living and green products. The event uses disposable plastic cups for drink and snack samples—thousands of them. They’re used for a few seconds then tossed in the trash. Every year we are shocked by the event’s overflowing trash cans and general lack of attention paid to reducing waste.
We always carry our own reusable containers, and last year people loved the idea, especially at booths where sample drinks or snacks were provided in single-use plastic cups. Many of our customers and fellow show attendees expressed their hope for a more sustainable show, and even Alice Waters was shocked by the amount of trash and shared this Instagram post.
Joining the Cause to Reduce Single-Use Waste
Our goal this year was to change behaviors, reduce a lot of waste, and start a movement that we hope will catch on: We gave away hundreds of reusable mini containers to attendees and exhibitors to use for drink and snack samples at the show. Instead of using the thousands of plastic tasting cups, people used our zero-waste stainless steel containers and loved them.
We changed a lot of habits and saved about 8,000 disposable cups from heading to a landfill. We’re looking forward to incorporating more ideas to help the show go green, including offering larger stainless steel to-go containers, waste-free snack bags, and reusable bamboo utensils. Onward to next year’s Expo West and more opportunities to encourage reuse!
Refusing single-use items and choosing healthy foods are two of the most important actions you can take for a more sustainable planet. Challenge yourself to create new positive habits this spring. Prepping homemade meals in advance, controlling portion sizes and using waste-free lunch containers can guarantee a healthier meal while on the go.
Refuse single-use plastic bags and containers
Every year Americans throw away 100 billion plastic bags and the effects are serious: bio-accumulation of plastic particles is endangering our planet. According to UNESCO, plastic debris causes the deaths of more than <b>one million seabirds and more than 100,000 marine mammals every year.
The first step to packing waste-free lunch is to avoid disposable plastic baggies, plastic wrap, juice boxes, plastic water bottles and other throw-away containers. An easy way to go green is to pack with reusable BPA-free sandwich wraps instead.
Choose durable green products
Conscious consumerism is on the rise as people shop for high-quality products that will stand the test of time and stay out of the landfill. Look for long-lasting food-packing options that are easy to clean, seal securely and withstand the rigors of daily use. And considering their long life and continued reuse, well-made stainless steel containers can be incredibly economical.
Pack your lunch in portion-appropriate containers
Stop throwing food away by packing balanced meals in portion-size lunchbox containers. Bring your healthy lunch in an eco-friendly container that is the right size for your appetite, ensuring a zero-waste, guilt-free meal while on the go. Those with removable dividers are even better—so versatile it’s like having two containers in one.
Pick double-walled containers for hot or cold foods
Pack your healthy lunch in insulated food jars that keep your pasta hot or your smoothies cold for long hours at work or school. And don’t be tempted by low-quality plastic containers that are not appropriate for reuse and might not be safe in a microwave where they could release toxins into your food. For hot foods, always stick with stainless steel and ditch the chemical residue.