Friday, June 13, 2008

How Green Were My Travels?

It's good to be home, even arriving back to tornado warnings, torrential downpours, and much of my state under water. After an extreme winter and now an extreme spring, it's hard not to assume this is a result of climate change.

If the weather didn't turn me greener, the past week at a surprisingly environmentally unfriendly event would have radicalized me by itself. I consider myself “light green” at best at home. But I was saddened to be in a group of 2500 people who were fed three meals and two snacks each day for a week, all with plastic plates, plastic cups, and plastic cutlery. Our teachers’ group really earned an F on environmental awareness. Here’s the bad, the ugly, and some rays of hope in the good.

The bad and ugly: about 7500 thick black plastic plates thrown away each day, or more than 52,000 plates for the week, just for the meals. Add to that the smaller plastic plates and bowls at meals and snacks, the plastic cups at each meal and snack, and the plastic utensils — I think we were over 100,000 for plastic dishes and utensils, and roughly 25,000 for plastic drinks cups and bottles of water. It’s beyond depressing. I hate committees but I’m going to have to volunteer for one to ensure this doesn't happen next year.

Any bright spots? I brought my empty water bottle through security and used it all week, and also brought a Baggu for my local shopping (thanks, EnviroMom for both tips!). I also remembered to throw a travel coffee mug in my bag at the last minute and I saw a lot of others who also brought their own mugs. Some people also brought their own plastic containers to make their meals to-go — which made me realize I could have brought camping stuff (or just my own reusable containers) to reduce my personal plastic consumption. I don’t think this would fly at a fancy conference but we were a bunch of teachers in shorts, t-shirts, and baseball caps scoring exams in a giant hall; eccentricity wasn’t really a problem. My own small solution was to re-use my fork, knife, and spoon all week. I just wiped them off and put them in a bag pocket and then washed them at the end of the day at the hotel. Weird, I know, but at least it kept 6o pieces of plastic cutlery out of the trash.

A few areas reminded me more of home. The convention center where we worked and ate had recycling bins for cans and plastic bottles. I stayed at a Hyatt that has instituted its own green plan, which was a relief. All the light fixtures in the room and even the bathroom had CFLs. They also place a card in the room noting that bed linens and towels will be changed “as needed” but not every day unless requested. It looked like my sheets were changed once during the week (which was just right); the used towels were changed a couple times. And I curbed my enthusiasm for all things tiny and didn’t use or purloin the little shampoo and lotion bottles (I just brought my own from home in small reusable travel containers).

Overall the week was a rough awakening. I get spoiled in my community where green thinking and actions are easy and abundant. I also realized the importance of stepping up. All week at our event people were aghast at how much plastic we were throwing out, and talked about it a lot, but no one was really proposing any solutions.

Today’s mitzvah: Do you keep noticing a bunch o’waste somewhere in your daily world? Consider making a suggestion for change — you’ll get lots of moral support here!

Bus photo courtesy of the Oxford & Chiltern Bus Page.

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Stefanie said...

I was just thinking today while we were at Panera that I wish they would put out recycling bins. A lot of the products they use are recyclable, and just end up going to waste. One thing I do like about them, though, is that they use actual plates and silverware (usually), as well as real coffee mugs (unless you get a to go cup, which I think is recyclable), so it does save a lot of trash.

Where are you located? We've been having a lot of tornado warnings and flooding here (St. Louis)

jen x said...

Stefanie, nice to hear Panera is using washable silveware and plates instead of disposable. Do you think you can convince them to put in a recycling bin :-)

I'm going to move out of my comfort zone on Monday and bug our credit union about styrofoam. It's a terrific credit union, free checking, nice people, and lately a big sign that they've converted to green power. Since they're friendly they also provide free coffee -- but they use styrofoam cups, ugh. It bothers me every time I go in but I never say anything because I hate being a nudge. My goal for this week is to suck it up and email them about switching to something less environmentally icky.