I remember my mom coming home from the grocery store on the weekends when we were kids in Florida, arms full, car keys hanging from her pinky finger, opening the door with her foot.
My brother and I, likely complaining from being torn away from the (original) Super Mario Brothers would unload the trunk and carry everything up the driveway and inside into the kitchen. Then the three of us each put away a section of food. Mom took the produce and fridge and freezer, either my brother or I got stuck with the rice cakes, Cheerios and other pantry items and whoever was left made the rounds putting away the paper towels, toilet paper, soap, dog food and any other miscellaneous items. Everyone’s least favorite job was getting rid of the bags. My mom always got paper bags because “back then” we thought it was better for the environment and they were picked up for curbside recycling. We’d have to fold them just so to make them take up less space in the bin. Then there was the other packaging material left after unloading…six pack rings, cardboard boxes, plastic bags for the meat and produce, egg trays… quite a spread of garbage before we even cooked or ate any of the food. Imagine how much trash piled up after a typical Sunday cookout: baked bean cans, corn husks, soda cans, Gaterade bottles (sometimes doubled as dog toys), plastic bags from the pre-washed salad greens and styrofoam and plastic from the meat. Yikes, all that to feed a family of four a hearty weekend dinner together. And that’s if my brother and I didn’t invite any friends from the neighborhood.
Nowadays, my mom and I both shop with reusable bags, but quite a bit of that wasteful packaging remains. I do most of my food shopping at farmers’ markets, but even so, I end up filling up more trash bags a week than I would like.
If you feel the same way, here are a few solutions that work for me and none are inconvenient or cause much of a change in habit.
Recycle. It really oughtta be a no-brainer. But realize this – recycling is incredibly energy intensive and many things can’t be recycled. You’ll have to educate yourself on what your area recycles. If you live in unincorporated L.A., go here. If you live within the City of L.A., go here. If you live somewhere else try a Google search. That number on the bottom of the plastic container with the chasing arrows does not guarantee recycling. You’ll have to do your homework, but usually glass and cans are safe. If it’s possible to reuse something rather than recycle it, do that. For example, I return my plastic berry containers and egg cartons to the farmers’ market stands that I got them from.
I live in a small apartment and the thought of having a compost or worm bin inside, quite frankly, grosses me out. Besides, I’d have no use for the compost. But a single trip to the farmers’ market can boast a lot of compostable material. I throw everything in a cardboard box and hand it off to a co-worker with a worm bin and a yard. Ask around, chances are, you know someone with a yard compost bin who will gladly take your scraps.
Think ahead. Leave some canvas shopping bags in your trunk for trips to the grocery store. If they get dirty rolling around in there, throw them in the washer and dryer. Keep another small bag on you for smaller things. Chico Bag makes one that easily fits on your keys, in your purse (even a small purse) or on a belt loop. It’s also totally washable and might even come with your college mascot on the front (where’s Sebastian the Fighting Ibis, Chico Bag?). I’ve had one for two years now (shown above in purple) and it’s still in mint condition after many trips through the wash. California may be the first state in the nation to ban single-use plastic bags, which are made from petroleum if you didn’t know. You can support the legislation now, here.
And while it may make you feel great to buy compostable cutlery instead of plastic for your summer cookout, remember that nothing at all composts very well when in a sealed plastic garbage bag in the land fill. Something that’s not meant for single-use will end up being much more eco-freindly in the end.