Closing the loop one small step at a time

Filed in Blog, Guest Posts by on February 18, 2010 9 Comments
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Rian from EcoMovement helps us reduce landfill waste

Rian from EcoMovement helps us reduce landfill waste

Our guest post this week comes from Rian Bedard who recently started “EcoMovement”. EcoMovement is focused on implementing Zero Waste programs in businesses, schools, municipality, and events.

Following his extensive training and knowledge after studying Permaculture in San Francisco at the Botancal Gardens and becoming a certified instructor at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA; Rian’s goal is to help move his community toward city wide composting programs and broader recycling.

Today Rian shares his thought on making a difference when eating take away.

Source reduction

In the waste world it’s called “source reduction”, which means before the waste even gets to the trash bin you reduce it.
When you look at restaurants, cafĂ©’s, etc. they can reduce their waste very easily by implementing the use of more re-usable mugs, cups, plates, and silverware. There also has to be a large focus on staff training. Most times  when you grab lunch to-go at your favorite establishment they just assume you need a bag, napkin, fork, salt & pepper, but in most cases you’re bringing your meal home, where you have all of this or you’re taking it right back to your desk where you might have utensils.
The point is, if the employees were trained to ask you if you needed each item, it would cause you to think and also it would save on money and waste. In my experience I have seen a large culture shift in establishments that have done this and also a very large saving in cost.

Vote with your money

On the consumer (you and me) end it is our duty to vote with our dollar and encourage businesses to implement these changes.
The only way most business will change is if we demand that they change their packaging and offer more organic, fairtrade and local options. One way we can all make a difference is to use our own water bottles and coffee mugs. Most people will order at least one coffee to-go a day. That’s 365 coffees a year and over a 40 yr time period that’s 14,600 cups per person!
If everyone brought their own mug, that would have a very large impact and divert a massive amount from the landfill.
They now have great stainless steel silverware kits, re-usable bags and even re-usable to-go containers that you can take your food home in. These steps do take a little more time to think about, but once incorporated into your daily routine it becomes second nature.

Small positive steps

In most cases I find that people get really overwhelmed asking “What can I do? I can’t afford solar panels, geothermal or wind energy”.
It’s the little things that add up, the ripple effect. You can start slow and one year have your first compost pile in your backyard and the next use that to start your first garden. When I studied Permaculture in San Francisco, CA we were required to keep a journal of our daily routine. In that I was forced to see how much waste I created, whether it was from driving to work or the effect the purchases I made had on the environment. It was a very successful exercise because it gave me all of the problems and all I had to do was come up with the simple solutions.
We all just need to realize that through small changes we can create a better world to live in for the future generations.

You can contact Rian at Rian AT zerowastenow.com. He will be launching his website Zero Waste Now soon and you can follow him on twitter.

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About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (9)

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  1. John Costigane says:

    Great to see you joining the Zero Waste trend, Rian. We have had good contacts with North American bloggers since our starting point nearly 2 years ago. There have been plenty of positive changes here in the many related aspects of Zero Waste, with even political parties contributing positively.

    California is among the leading places for best practice while we are playing catch-up. Cities are a particular challenge since the preponderance of high-rise, and other, flats there make recycling and composting more difficult than our mainly town-based situations.

  2. Margaret says:

    The step beyond asking if the customer needs a bag is “Have you bought your own bag?” I was asked this recently and felt so guilty that I hadn’t (I really do, usually, honest). If I was to go into that shop again I would certainly have bought my own. I was on holiday and our routines fly out the winow then.

  3. Jane says:

    I love it when I’m asked if I need a bag particularly when I’ve forgotten to present it for filling! The same should apply to plastic cutlery. I see this is in the office – we have cutlery – but people still bring in plastic knives/forks/spoons unnecessarily with their takeaway food together with many unnecessary single use carrier bags. We do have some reusable ones hanging in the office kitchen together with a bag of single use carrier bags – in the hopes that these will be used one day!

    Why is it that because they are not specifically charged for they are considered ‘free’ and people feel they are therefore a ‘must have’? They are not free.

    At home very few single use carriers get through the front door but a very few still do. It is great not having to recycle those as well!

  4. Poppy says:

    The only time I have had coffee-to-go was when I was attending a conference in London. It really is a concept that goes right over my head … I just don’t get it! People are rarely that far away from a kettle surely? And if they are, can’t they wait until they get home or to the office … wherever?!

  5. Rian says:

    @John Costigane: Hey John,
    I happened to live in San Francisco a couple of years ago and learned a lot about Zero Waste from friends of mine who owned restaurants. We also had a curbside compost pick up. I agree that there are many challenges with large cities, which leaves more of a need for better outreach and education. If this is not easy people won’t do it. Thanks.

  6. Rian says:

    @Margaret: Hello Margaret,
    You are absolutely correct on that. Training your staff to ask those questions only helps reduce waste. We have a local grocery store that has a large sign outside that says, did you remember your reusable bag? I think that is brilliant because it makes you go back to your car or at least think about bringing one next time. Thanks for your comment.

  7. Rian says:

    @Jane: Hey Jane, I think a big part of it is habits on the end of the consumer and the restaurants. Maybe we should start charging people extra to take a bag and plastic utensils and people would then start refusing to take it or start using silverware to save money. It does cost the business money and its needless waste. Thanks for your comments.

  8. Rian says:

    @Poppy: Hey Poppy, Its hard to get people to take their time. Most people don’t give them self enough time to have breakfast in the morning. Its a matter of convenience and having things right at your finger tips, on the spot and thats just not fast enough. We have to be retrained to take our time and give ourselves more time to prepare, rather than rush around all day. Thanks.

  9. Jane says:

    @Rian: Yes, charge for a bag and utensils. Even better: Always ask people if they need them! People take things just because they have been given to them and not because they need them.

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