Lunch today was delicious – chicken pesto sandwich with pasta salad and a big fat pickle. But there was lots of other stuff that came with my lunch today that wasn’t delicious – or even edible. Since I took my lunch ‘to go’ it came with a paper bag, wax paper for the sandwich, two wood toothpicks with colourful plastic flags, a bag for the pickle, a little plastic container with lid for the salad, a plastic fork and some napkins. My garbage bin is almost as full as I am!
Food courts are a great place to witness our culture of disposablity in action. Food items are transferred from counter to table in reels of waxed paper, cardboard, aluminium and sometimes even styrofoam (which basically never ever breaks down). 10 minutes later (or less if you’re like me) all those resource intensive “disposable” goods make their way into the nearest bin and then eventually, off to the landfill or incineration plant. In an effort to reduce all that waste and add a little class on the side, some food courts like those in the Toronto Eaton’s Centre have started to offer – gasp – REAL plates, cutlery and glasses.
But what about my take-away lunch that I wanted to eat in solitary confinement under the florescent glow of my office lights? Towards solving this dilemma, there are many advocates of biodegradable packaging. But making better or ‘less harmful’ disposable packaging doesn’t address the basic problem of our throw-away culture. Biodegradable packaging is still resource-intensive to produce (much of it made of corn or other starches), is used for mere minutes and then transported to landfill (where it is unlikely to break-down due to the absence of water and air) or maybe shipped to a large-scale municipal compost facility. In either situation, that’s a lot of work and a lot of resources for something that holds a sandwich or a pickle for a few minutes.
So if biodegradable or recyclable packaging isn’t the answer what are we supposed to do?! Not to worry, I’m not suggesting you carry your pasta salad back to your desk in your purse or grab a handful of fries from an open trough. Thankfully, an innovative (incredibly practical) guy from San Francisco came up with a better idea. On April 20, 2012, the Lunchbox Project corralled a bunch of workers in SF’s financial district together and encouraged everyone to bring their own reusable containers for their take-away lunches. As the Project explains, “Order your chicken teriyaki in a Tupperware instead and reduce the amount of plastic plodding toward our landfills, gutters, and the ocean.” The Project was a great success and hopefully the trend catches on. If you’re interested in bringing the Lunchbox Project to your community connect with them to see if they have any suggestions or resources.
In 2010 in the US, containers and packaging made up the second largest component of municipal waste – 76 million tonnes or 30% of the total municipal solid waste. While lunch and food court waste is just a small portion of this overall amount, it’s an important area where we can begin to make changes. So if you’re not inspired enough to pack a lunch try packing your own ‘to-go’ container or choose somewhere that offers you a classy set of real cutlery where you’re the only one that gets filled up, not the garbage bin.