Eating Out of Styrofoam

Well it looks like styrofoam is still a go to container in take-out restaurants and food festivals.

And I’m ashamed to say that I ate out of the dirty containers twice this weekend.

In fact, my whole weekend was pretty glutenous and I’m stuck somewhere between a bad hang over and shame.

Friday was a family reunion of sorts. Between my two busy kids, a handful of adults, a messy house and a few sore throats, pho, the Vietnamese soup of champions, seemed an easy solution. We got take-out and then got stuck with four giant styrofoam containers — which are not recyclable.

According to Clevland State Univeristy, it takes more than one million years for styrofoam to break down. One million years.

Is one million years worth the 15 minutes of convenience to have a lukewarm bowl pho in your kitchen? Not for a nanosecond.

With the styrofoam safely tucked away in a garbage bag in the garage and the guilt of the pho behind me, I went downtown for family reunion of sorts part II.

We met at the Ottawa Poutinefest on Sparks Street. For those not in the know, poutine is a highly celebrated Canadian concoction of french fries, cheese curds and gravy. Poutinefest vendors add a variety of new and innovative ingredients and mixes the beloved deep fried dish.

So we pick a food truck and order. Suddenly, I’m holding a styrofoam container and a plastic water bottle. Oops. And the guilt comes pouring down.

Now this guilt was two fold: first for the styrofoam and secondly for the incredible amount of grease, fat and over-the-top indulgence I’ve just ingested.

Had I just paid closer attention to each vendor stand, I would have noticed the type of containers the poutine was served in and could have gone to a vendor who gave out cardboard instead. I could have diverted at least one piece of styrofoam from the landfill.

Oh, but wait. Where are the recycling bins? They must be here somewhere. Nope, none in sight. I didn’t see even one recycling bin and I was looking for one. I even asked someone from my group if she noticed any.

She shook her head.

In the end, all the containers went into the garbage bin that day. Only the people who brought their cardboard, cans or bottles home recycled.

I’ve been to enough festivals, concerts and special events all over the world to know that some places are more mindful of the waste created during these gatherings than others. Cities like Amsterdam, Berlin and Tokyo do it right. There are recycling bins everywhere and everyone seems to do their part to keep their cities clean.

Unfortunately my own city, Ottawa, just keeps missing the mark.

And I missed the mark too. I don’t usually get faced with styrofoam. I don’t usually need to buy bottled water. I don’t usually go to food festivals downtown. I don’t usually eat so much awful food.

But I did this weekend. And it won’t happen like that again.

Crafts With the Power to Defy Earth Day Logic

Happy Earth Day!

It’s a day to celebrate this gorgeous rotating orb we live on and to pledge not to do anymore bad things to it.

In my quest to find a fun and eco-friendly craft for my toddler, I’ve discovered the thick irony of Earth Day crafts for toddlers and young children.

And it’s boldly written in paper and plastic.

I’m not anti-crafts, we do paper crafts at home and at playgroups. They are an easy, creative and inexpensive way for children to develop fine motor skills and develop critical thinking skills while making pretty things.

However, are paper and plastic crafts the best way to celebrate Earth Day?

Er, probably not.

Schools, daycares, nursery schools and homes around the world will be printing colouring pages and buying construction paper to educate children on the importance of Earth Day.

Sigh.

Now that the trees have been chopped down, children will be writing their eco-pledges on pieces of paper that will be glued to construction paper and taped to the wall. Egg cartons will be cut, painted and glued to cardboard in the shape of a tree. Paper plates will be coloured in the green and blue hues of the planet. Paper mâché globes will hang from ceilings.

Oh, how ironic. Paper crafts that teach the importance of conserving resources.

And now for the plastic. I have a really hard time with the plastic.

I gave up plastic bottles and their beverages years ago so you’d be hard pressed to find any in my house. So for us to do to a plastic bottle craft, I would have to get in my vehicle, drive to the store, buy a bottle of soda, sugary juice or (gasp!) water, empty it, wash it and then craft it. A lot of the plastic bottle crafts I’ve seen involve painting, filling with dirt, gluing, shredding or cementing.

Now that doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of Earth Day at all.

Dare I even wonder how many parents, caregivers or nursery schools are going to take the time to clean those bottles and put them in the recycling after Earth Day? Many of these crafts will end up directly in a landfill.

And let’s face it, plastic bottle crafts kind of suck. No one really wants a plastic bottle bird feeder hanging from a tree. Not even grandma will hang onto that for very long.

Let’s not forget how terrible those plastic bottles are. Not only are they often filled with questionable beverages with no nutritional value, the plastic itself is laden with chemicals that can leach into drinks. They’re also a nightmare for the environment.

Now I can’t totally knock plastic drinking bottles. There are places in the world that desperately need clean drinking water and bottled water saves many lives. They are a short-term solution to a very real and pressing issue: 750 million people worldwide lack clean drinking water. That’s simply unacceptable.

Celebrating Earth Day by gluing paper and painting plastic bottles isn’t good enough for our children. How can they possibly learn the value of using less plastic and paper when they’re taught from a very young age that plastic is used to celebrate Earth Day?

There are better, more permanent, ways to commemorate this significant day:

  • Planting trees and vegetable seeds in biodegradable cups
  • Bringing egg cartons to local egg farmers to be reused
  • Turning turn off the tap while brushing teeth and washing hands
  • Involving children in food buying
  • Using a rain barrel to water gardens

We won’t be crafting today, but we will be planting some tomato seeds. Earth Day isn’t just a day. It’s an opportunity to sow a project that will last well beyond April 22.

Happy Earth Day,

Jill

Better Easter Junk…er, gifts

With Easter upon us, I can’t help but reflect on the amount of junk that will fill garbage and recycling bins this weekend.

It seems that the commercial portion of Easter has an excessive amount of plastic, useless toys and really gross treats. (I won’t even comment on the big freaky rabbit.)

I scratch my head at the palm sized bunnies that squeak when you touch their feet or the little ducklings that sit in an egg and peep.

Sure they keep dollar stores open but do they serve any other purpose?

Since spring is finally here, why not consider getting the kids some outdoor activities like sidewalk chalk, skipping ropes or balls instead of candy and chocolate.

Better yet, get them some seeds and gardening gloves. Show them how magical spring really is and how quickly seedlings grow. By the time the plastic ducks and bunnies are in the landfill, the kids will still be watching their little miracles grow!

Happy Easter,

Jill

Going Green(er)

Going green isn’t about achieving a destination: it’s a journey on a path.

That path is sometimes so clearly identified and well trodden that anyone can find their way around. What do I mean?

Well, recycling pops into mind:

  • Rinse the can.
  • Drop it in the blue bin.
  • Put the bin at the road.
  • Pick up by recycling truck.
  • Put empty bin in garage.
  • Repeat.

I’ve got that down pat.

Other times, the path breaks off into so many other overgrown paths that the options become muddled. What do I mean?

Well, composting pops into mind:

  • Buy expensive compost bags for the city run program.
  • Use bags (for a number of years).
  • Put allowed items in the bags.
  • Put bags in green bin.
  • Put bin at road.
  • Feel good about effort.
  • Refuse pick up by compost truck.
  • Call the city.
  • Explain to the city that we’ve been using same bags for years.
  • Discover that local stores sell compostable bags that the city doesn’t accept.
  • Feel ashamed that effort has been in vain.
  • Listen patiently as city says only option is to remove all compostable bags from bin.
  • Remove two week old compost from the bags in the bin.
  • Return bin to the road, sans compostable bags.
  • Return of compost truck.
  • Pick up by compost truck.
  • Put empty bin to garage.
  • Vow to never buy compostable bags again.
  • Look into home composting.
  • Become overwhelmed by options: location, bins, worms, winter composting.
  • Scratch head.
  • Buy compost bags sanctioned by the city until another solution is found.
  • Feel somewhat good about effort put in.
  • Wait until spring for new solution.

True story.

What I find interesting about going green, other than watching husband’s face as he rifles through two week old compost bins, are the endless options available.

Back to my example.

There are levels of composting: you can use the city run program or go totally hardcore and start a worm colony. I’m not sure where we’ll end up on the spectrum, probably somewhere in between. I’m not a particular fan of worms.

Nothing is black and white. It’s….well….green. And there are many shades of green.

Although I’ve been treading on a light green path for a number of years, having children made me really reconsider how much more I can do.

Being green(er) is thinking about and putting effort into waste reduction, eliminating household toxins, buying local, gardening, rearing green babies, becoming energy efficient, cooking, re-using, enjoying a conscious way of living and being more natural.

This blog is about my effort, no, my vow, to be more naturally green.

Happy health,

Jill