Living Less Unsustainably: Paper Plates and Potlucks

Jan 20, 2020

Credit Love Cross / KLCC

When I go to a potluck, the first thing people ask me is a garden question. Well, actually the first thing they ask is "Did Laurie (my wife) bring a pie?"

Then it's then garden question, and then something on recycling. As a Master Recycler, Master Composter, and Climate Master, I have a good base of knowledge on Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling.

And just as our curbside recycling options have changed, the whole recycling landscape is undergoing major changes. I'd like to be one of the people who guide you through the new way we look at materials management, garbage, and energy use. We will look at the whole ball of beeswax that is sustainability.

We all know that reduce is first and foremost in the RRR triad, but many people are still more focused on recycling, and are understandably confused and disappointed by all the changes in our blue bins.

Change is hard. And change is necessary. My 1970's meteorology text warned of a potentially catastrophic change coming to our climate- a new ice age.  

Grass fed beef is no better for the environment than feedlot beef- maybe worse. 

Perhaps the hardest change for dedicated recyclers to stomach is that sometimes it is better to throw something in the landfill than to recycle it. Wait- Wait, don't turn the radio off.  

Starting today, and every third Monday of the month I'll pass on information from folks on the cutting edge and front lines of sustainability, and help explain why what was true isn't anymore. I'll answer your questions, and put the answers on a Facebook page where we can share the information- and update it as our understanding changes

Now, let's go back to the potluck. If you are hosting, or just attending, do not use paper plates and plastic cutlery.  It is an insult to the earth, and your guests. Making a paper plate uses 100 times more water than washing a re-usable plate.  Grow a tree, cut it down, truck it to the paper mill, make the plate, ship it to the store, bring it home, use it for 30 minutes, and throw it in the garbage where it will slowly rot and release the potent greenhouse gas methane. 

The plastic forks and spoon have the same 30-minute life span.  And compostable - did you see my air quotes- cutlery and containers do not work. No commercial composters accept them locally. It WAS a good idea. Now it is just greenwashing. 

Archaeologist from the future will dig up our piles of one-use meal utensils and study them until they come to a bizarre conclusion. "This civilization (if we can call it that) threw away all their dishes if more than 10 people ate at the same time!?!? No wonder their civilization collapsed."

I bring 30 plates and forks to potlucks if need be, but have mostly nudged my group into the re-usable dinnerware camp. And the larger plates allow you to eat more- and waste less.

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