The Green Smackdown: Talkin’ Trash

Reducing waste one plastic bodega bag at a time

httpswww.popsci.comsitespopsci.comfilesimport2013importPopSciArticlestrash_heap.jpg

| | Madame Trashheap got nothin’ on me.|

Boy, Nicole’s last post sure was a lulu, huh? Way to divert attention from the ol’ energy-sucking light bulbs by randomly pointing to some awesome new vertical farm. “Hey, look over there, guys. A giant skyscraper full of vegetables….” Come on, girl. Put your dukes up!

Anyhoo, enough about her, let’s talk about me. My meat-reduction plan has been going swimmingly. Over the past three weeks, I’ve consumed no animal flesh save yesterday’s helping of Easter brisket (legal under my meat-is-a-celebration clause), which was of the succulent, slow-braised with vinegar and onions variety, from a free-range, grass-fed, locally raised steer—i.e., totally worth it. Other than that, it’s been a very Asian diet of veggies, rice, and tofu for me, pretty much. But here’s a tip for anyone thinking of becoming a vegetarian: If someone offers you a banh mi made with “vegan chicken,” run away. Blech.

While I work on mastering such pratfalls of my new nutrition plan, I’m also moving on to the next step of my carbon diet: reducing the amount of trash I create in the world. Living in NYC, this is a pretty tricky thing to do. Every time you buy anything in New York, a well-meaning cashier tries to give it to you in a plastic bag. Since most people don’t have cars, it’s a pain in the butt to shop here, so everything under the sun (including beer, cigarettes, groceries, prescriptions, and random purchases from The Container Store) can be delivered—usually in several layers of cardboard boxes. Lunch is generally a carryout affair, complete with individual Styrofoam trays, plastic containers, and wooden chopsticks. All in all, this amounts to a massive amount of unnecessary waste. And only a small portion of it gets reused, because NYC recycling is restricted to paper, aluminum, and numbers 1 and 2 plastic. (Also because PopSci‘s cleaning team throws the contents of our recycling bins in the trash dumpster. Yeah. We’re working on this.)

I’m finding that the only real way to combat this tidal wave of waste is to do it on a very personal level: I try to remember to carry reusable tote bags with me to the grocery store, and when I’m there, I do my best to choose products with minimal packaging. Whenever I can, I refuse bodega bags (“No thanks! I can just put this, um, pint of ice cream in my purse…”) and when I get up early enough to prepare something, I bring my lunch to work in Tupperware (this one is tough for me because our office is located smack in the middle of the Korean/Indian/Japanese food corridor, and the takeout is oh-so-gratifying). And I skip the plastic bag for my wet workout clothes, and just put ’em in a different compartment of my gym duffle.

I’m not giving up toilet paper like No-Impact Man or anything—although there’s a certain appeal to the Japanese washer-dryer toilets. I’m just trying to be less… trashy. How ’bout you, Nicole? —Megan Miller