Conscious Dining – Boycott Single Use Plastics at Restaurants

I’ve written before about the importance of switching from a plastic to-go-cup to bringing your own tumbler whenever you get an iced coffee out at a cafe or restaurant to save landfills and energy of recycling hundreds of plastic cups, lids, and straws. I am really proud of the plastic that was not used by me in the past five years since I’ve been using my tumbler daily. There’s really no need to create all that waste – either bring your own or ask for a mug in the cafe. Recently I have expanded my actions of decreasing my single use plastics, I now pay attention to the restaurants and cafes that I visit and have made conscious decisions to boycott  places that regularly serve with plastic utensils or cups.

Waste behind a local cafe, these bags are filled mostly with plastic cups/lids/straws.

Waste behind a local cafe, these bags are filled mostly with plastic cups/lids/straws.

There are of course times when plastic silverware has its benefits, say for a picnic, but even then there are alternatives such as metal or single use wooden utensils. But at a sit down restaurant, I see no logic in it. It was over a year ago that I went to an expensive restaurant here in Busan that sits on a marina, has modern interior design, and caters to wealthy customers. Their fare follows their aquatic theme, concentrating on deep-fried seafood baskets with french fries – fish ‘n chips basically. At this “nice” establishment the food comes out in a cardboard box with a wax paper lining, to eat they supply plastic forks and knives, and condiments are given in 2oz plastic dishes with lids (With lids! With lids to sit down and dip your fish into and then immediately throw away.) That is a lot of waste from one meal. And is it just me, or doesn’t using disposables cheapen the image of a restaurant?

Lids! To dine in! Madness

During my first visit there I sulked as I ate, trying not to ruin the vibe for my friends, and I vowed to never go there again. Over a year later the place was suggested to eat at for a friend’s birthday and I had to speak up and be the Debbie Downer that often makes an appearance as an environmentalist and say that I could not eat there based on the waste. It was uncomfortable to vocalize and certainly put a damper on the issue, but I had to say it. In the end, plans changed and we didn’t go there, but I am glad I spoke up none-the-less.

I also once ate at a pizza place that serves by the slice. They served that slice of pizza on a nice wooden board but also lined that board with a piece of paper – totally unnecessary. Plates were of course paper as well. The utensils were plastic so I opted to just use my hands. Even the draught beer, which was from a local brewery, was served in plastic cups. I really enjoy that local beer but couldn’t bring myself to order it.

Side note on the beer cups; there are times when they are required, say a crowded concert floor where glass could be a danger, or at an outdoor event where again it’s a hazard to have glass. In that case, breweries and restaurants could serve their beer in a compostable, corn-based cup, which is what I found back home in the U.S. at my favorite local brewery – Southern Tier Brewery of Lakewood, NY. I was sad to have to switch to plastic in order to follow my friends onto their stones course*, but was relieved when I saw that it was a compostable plastic cup. (I heard from a friend that there is a cafe in Busan that serves their to-go coffees in a similar cup, it’s on my to-do list to check it out and of course there shall be a post.)

Compostable Corn Cup, Made in U.S.A - dream product

Compostable Corn Cup, Made in U.S.A – dream product

It really might seem crazy to most people that I am so affected by this issue (I once described how it feels as if I’m strangling a kitten, or some other such heinous crime, whenever I use plastic, or worse still, don’t have the option to recycle it) but since I have been living by the sea and witness the amounts of litter and waste that makes its way into the water, I have been more and more adamant about limiting my contribution to our dying oceans.

Bring Your Own EVERYTHING!

Bring Your Own EVERYTHING!

So, what to do about this? After I realize what’s going on, I decide not to visit the restaurants again. Another option could be to go but to bring my own utensils and tumbler. I have even gone so far as to bring my own dishes along to an event that I knew would be using single use. Sure, I got a few weird stares, but I also got some compliments and hopefully inspired at least one or two people to be more aware. I wouldn’t suggest lugging your picnic basket around with you everywhere you dine, but sticking some silverware in your purse at all times might be a good middle ground. They’re not big and you can even find compact camping style ones. One of my next projects is to sew a little fabric carrier to keep my chopsticks and spoon clean when I carry them around. Post on that when I get around to it. Until then, I shall simply be boycotting single use plastics at restaurants.

How do you avoid it?

100% recycled apparel

*Footnote: Stones is a cool new game which from my understanding was invented in my region of south-western New York State. It’s a game similar to bocce ball that requires a grass and sand course. I noticed it was gaining a lot of popularity at Southern Tier, they even had T-shirts, which to my delighted surprise were made from 100% post-consumer recycle material. High five!

Use Less Plastic

It’s April. This month we celebrate Earth Day, a day to recognize the beauty of nature, maybe plant a tree, spend some time outdoors, or attend a community planned event. That’s all good and great and brings nothing but smiles to my face, but ultimately, we need to spend every day as if it is Earth Day, because every day we live on and take from this planet and rarely do we take a step back and contemplate our day-to-day choices and their effects on the environment.

It has been on my mind a great deal these past few months to use less plastic. One of my resolutions for the New Year was to decrease my plastics use this year and forever more. Here are some tips of how I have been cutting back.

  • DON’T USE PLASTIC BAGS!!! These nuisances are almost unavoidable. Purchase anything and they automatically toss it in a plastic bag. This is exceptionally true here in Korea at markets and convenience stores. At least at grocery stores they charge you for the bags (here in Korea.) Give it a think, what use does that bag have to you after you bring it home and take out whatever you carried in it? Maybe you could use it as a garbage can liner, but that’s about it. I’m sure you have a larger collection of plastic bags than you do garbage cans. Replace them with reusable bags that fold up and clip onto your purse, or take an empty backpack with you to the grocery store. I’ve made it a recent habit to even take empty Tupperware with me to fill with shrimp or wet items sold fresh from the market. It works great!
  • PURCHASE WITH LESS PACKAGING Marketers wrap their products in so much unnecessary paper and plastic to make it look appealing on the shelves. Again, this is an example of a one time use by-product that has absolutely no value to you in the future. There’s no doubt that it makes its way into the garbage or recycling bin. While choosing a product at the grocery store or any other shop, compare which item has less packaging and go for that. Give preference to post consumer recycled paper board or soy printed labels. If something comes in a glass jar, then wash it out and add it to your Tupperware cupboard, or use it to store sugar or other dry goods in as opposed to in the plastic bags that they come in.
Wash and reuse glass jars after use. This way, you can store dry goods like coffee and sugar in glass rather than the original plastic.

Wash and reuse glass jars after use. This way, you can store dry goods like coffee and sugar in glass rather than the original plastic.

  • ASK FOR NO STRAW If you get an iced coffee or smoothie or even a soft drink with your meal out at a restaurant, then be sure to tell the server or barista that you do not need a straw. They are absolutely pointless utensils and cause a lot of waste. When I collect litter off of the beach a lot of the garbage is straws from drinks from the nearby cafes. Of course, be sure to bring your tumbler  along with you in your purse or bag to avoid using plastic cups and lids with that straw.
It doesn't take me long to collect straws on my morning walks,.

It doesn’t take me long to collect straws on my morning walks,.

  • NO PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES This is an obvious one, especially with my previous post on the usefulness of tumblers, which is hyperlinked just above, but I’ll say something quick as a reminder. Plastic bottled water is as unnecessary as a straw, you don’t need ’em. They have become modern-day conveniences and the norm for most, but change your habit by buying a home use water filter, purchasing a metal water bottle or tumbler to be filled with the filter or even straight out of the tap if it’s safe to do where you live.
    • Side note: Isn’t it sad that it is unsafe to drink from the tap! I was warned when I moved to Korea that it’s a big no-no. Most people create a lot of waste by buying large, plastic bottles of water.
  • CHANGE YOUR PLASTIC USE HABITS This is incorporated into all of the tips above in a way, yet deserves more explanation. In order for me to cut back on my plastics use, I have to make small decisions every day. For example, there is a bakery around the corner from me that I enjoy, but I will not allow myself to go in there unless I have a container on me to carry the bread away with. At first they looked at me funny, but after about the fourth time, they gave me a day old bread free of charge (or service as they say here) because they may have thought it was cute that I brought my own Tupperware.

Changing habits, whether it be stopping bad ones or starting good ones, takes time and effort and won’t happen overnight. It might seem, at first, like a big pain to have to cart around a metal water bottle with you everywhere you go and you might find yourself grimacing at the checkout line when you realize that you’ve left your reusable bags at home – AGAIN! If you keep at it and make little notes, place the bags near your car keys or always in your purse, then it will begin to be the way things are for you and you’ll be cutting your plastics use down bit by bit.

Sustainably Fill Your Closet – 6 Tips

In my last post I outlined the many negative effects of the fashion industry and how learning of them altered my shopping habits. In the past I used to shop somewhat regularly. It wasn’t often a matter of desperately needing an item, instead it was just something to do in my down time. I would check out sales and feel really excited and happy when I found what I thought was a good deal. Sometimes I would even buy something without even having any need for it, and maybe not even liking it much, therefore it might have found its way to the back of the closet, and then much later, to the thrift store.

Now I give so much more consideration to my shopping, and here’s how.

  1. Just get by: If you saw me out and about and paid attention to what I was wearing, then you would notice that my clothes are on heavy rotation. I have a relatively small amount of clothing that gets worn again and again. Specific to me, being a kindergarten ESL teacher and a yoga teacher, I am able to get away with going very casual, for example jeans and a baggy sweater. You might not have this sort of lifestyle and may find yourself requiring more variety in your wardrobe, if that’s the case, then there are ways to obtain them sustainably.
  2. Second-hand shopping: There’s still a way to have a shopping hobby, but without supporting the fashion industry, and that is to shop second-hand. Of course, second-hand shopping is more like finding a needle in a haystack at times, but when you do find that needle it feels like it’s the shiniest needle in all of the world since it probably took some time and luck to come across it. Here in Korea there are second-hand shops in most neighborhoods. This is my favorite one- The Beautiful Store. Another option would be consignment stores, which are costlier but guarantee less digging.

    Items donated for my upcoming clothing swap.

    Items donated for my upcoming clothing swap.

  3. Swap clothes with friends (and strangers): It’s common to lose interest in things that were bought long ago or that were not quite right but got purchased anyway. Instead of tossing thes things in a landfill, host or attend a clothing swap. That way you can feel satisfied with a cleaned out closet and then quickly fill it up with some fun new things.
  4. Read labels: Imagine if people read clothing tags the same way that they read nutrition labels and avoided toxic fabrics as much as they avoid GMO foods. It’s become a new habit of mine to check out where things are made and what they’re made of. Shop around and choose the more sustainable option of what you’re buying. Recently I have done this when shopping for headphones and yoga pants and feel prouder of my things even if nobody knows that they’re a bit more sustainable. Choosing something that’s better for you and for the environment can give a small sense of pride.
  5. Shop locally: If possible buy items made in your area, or at least country. That’s not very common
    in the US anymore, but can be done, American Apparel comes to mind. You could also shop on Etsy for up-cycled clothes. Here in Korea it’s much easier to do, a lot of small shops sell Made in Korea.

    Merino wool, one of my favorites.

    Merino wool, one of my favorites.

  6. Buy Natural Materials: Choosing a wool knit over acrylic will definitely cost more, unless found at a thrift store, but you get what you pay for. Spending more on high quality will mean that it will actually feel nicer to the touch (and you will be wearing it on your skin,) it will look nicer, and last longer. Other natural materials to keep an eye out for are organic cottons, silk, hemp, leather and suede.

Conscious consumerism takes more time and effort, but after practice it will develop into unconscious-concious consumerism, if that makes any sense. You will begin to be more aware of the things that you bring home with you and where and how they came to be. It really is similar to watching the breath in yoga, at first it’s not easy to give the breath full attention, but after hours and years of practice, it just begins to be the new normal. Likewise, choosing to shop more sustainably can soon become your new normal, too.
A handmade poster made by yours truly for my first swap in which I gave a short talk about shopping habits.

A handmade poster made by yours truly for my first swap in which I gave a short talk about shopping habits.