About two months ago, Sustrana decided to celebrate Earth Day by observing its annual Day Without Waste (DWW). As we head into the dog days of summer and gear up for pool parties, picnics, and barbecues, we thought it would be useful to look back on what we learned and consider how to have summer fun while avoiding unnecessary waste.
For our DWW, the biggest roadblock was definitely food packaging waste. Whether it’s individually wrapped snacks, the packaging for groceries, or single use food containers, food packaging is a big source of daily waste. In the summer, It is tempting to increase disposable plastic products for food consumption because they avoid the hassle and danger of broken glass around pools, lawn lounging, and bare feet.
But we already use much more plastic and styrofoam (ugh!) for food packaging and consumption than is sustainable, and most of these items are used once and then thrown away. They end up in landfills or in the ocean, harming ecosystems and wildlife. Every year, the average American throws away 185 pounds of plastic. To avoid that, one big step is to at least switch from disposable plastic to reuse-ables.
With summer being a season full of in-season fruits and vegetables, how you buy your produce can also help cut down on packaging waste. Opting to buy this fresh, unprocessed produce loose can dramatically decrease plastic waste from packaging. Buy local from a farm stand or grocery stores that bring in fresh, unpackaged produce direct from local farms. It also helps if you are already in the habit of bringing your own reusable bags to the grocery store!
If you’re a fan of camping or picnics, you can reduce plastic waste by making sure to use reusable containers for transporting food. Beeswax film is a more sustainable alternative to plastic wrap, if you’re trying to wrap up food that isn’t suited for a container. Bringing a container to carry waste home for recycling and composting will ensure that you don’t send those items to the landfill because there isn't recycling or compost nearby.
In the US, 1.5 million barrels of oil are spent on the production of water bottles each year so cutting out disposable water bottles is a big and simple way to be more sustainable and set a good example! If you are having an outdoor party, serve water and other beverages from dispenser with a spigot. And If you don’t trust your drinking water, rather than using bottled water, invest in a water filter and fill reusable bottles with filtered tap water to reduce waste and save money. Avoid using plastic cups by asking guests to bring their own reusable cups or water bottles; or provide reusables as a party favor.
At your party, invest in and use washable tablecloths instead of plastic ones if you’re worried about spills or want a splash of color. When possible, use reusable or compostable (if you compost!) plates and cutlery instead of plastic alternatives. You can also reduce waste from individually-wrapped snacks by making your own out of ingredients bought in bulk.
And last, but not least, challenge yourself to throw a summer social event with no landfill waste! Check out our DWW toolkit to get started.
Here are some stories from our 2018 DWW:
From Jennifer Anderson:
I started the day with breakfast of fresh eggs from my neighbor and toast (luckily not the last piece). I had coffee which resulted in a nespresso pod, which is recyclable (and we do recycle them). My lunch was leftovers from the previous night’s dinner transported to work in a reusable container, so no waste there. I finished a container of blueberries and recycled the container. The biggest problem came with my complete addiction to Justine’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups. OMG THEY ARE SO GOOD. I usually have two a day, but somehow on our ADWW, I could not survive without three!!! Ugh. So, I had three foil wrappers to send to the landfill. But that’s not the worst of it. At dinner time, I had to go right from work to a baseball game for my son. It ended at 7:45 PM which meant that I had to make a quick and easy dinner for the kids. This involved two plastic packages, one of frozen edamame and one of chicken fried rice from Trader Joe’s. Sigh. The life of a working mom really gets in the way, especially when one does not plan and needs to rely on convenience food to get through the day.
From Jenny Hoffman:
I had a dinner of roasted veggies, which is one great way to make sure there is no waste (roasted veggies are A LOT tastier than steamed). I also tended my little veggie/herb garden on which I had spread the results of a fall and winter of composting this past weekend (yep, all the food waste composted somehow). We started a number of seeds for my daughter in Northern Vermont in a bunch of the yogurt containers I reused from my lunches.
From Nancy Cleveland:
I composted some paper, tea leaves, and fruit, recycled one plastic bottle (no other options at a business meeting and no recycling (really?) so I took it home), and that was it! I would like to confess to the things that I didn’t do so that I could avoid waste: I did not take my vitamins, which are individually packaged in daily trash (I have to give up that convenience), I left various snack wrappers in my car (residue from a road trip), and I have no idea what waste my husband created to make lovely crab cakes, potatoes, and zucchini for dinner, but I suspect most everything was recyclable or compostable. It was as interesting to think about the things I didn’t do as what I did do, mostly because it was easier to see where I’ve established good habits and where I need to focus on changing. Food packaging is definitely a challenge, even for those of us who try to avoid it!
We’d love to hear your waste warrior stories! Happy reducing, reusing, and recycling this summer!