There was a bit of a brouhaha on Facebook over the weekend involving paper plates and napkins, and plastic cups and cutlery. A prominent blogger posted that she used the above items when life got all too hard and she couldn’t face the dishes. I clicked through and discovered this was a weekly occurrence.
Anyone who dared comment on the post suggesting this was wasteful got completely bitch-slapped as being judgmental. People responded with “I bet you’re not the greenest person on the planet” and all kinds of vitriol that only occurs in online spaces. I copped a bit of this when I shared the post to the DTEM Facebook page, which surprised me considering my “followers” are supposed to be greenies.
The point of this post is not to defend my actions (some people have suggested it goes against blogger code to share and criticise another blogger’s post and I respect that opinion), but I would like to clarify what I meant by the caption I added to the post when I shared it.
I’m the boy with his finger in the hole
What I said was:”And this makes me want to cry…”
It makes me want to cry because:
- We have become a throw-away society.
- Here is a person of influence telling her 30,000+ followers it’s okay to throw away *just a few plates* (see below) when it all gets too hard.
- I work constantly to minimise my family’s impact, often doing things “the hard way” and living a life, yes, less convenient (but fab in every other way). But it’s all in vain if next door they’re eating off paper plates and using plastic knives and forks. I felt a familiar sense of apathy creeping over me.
Most of all, this is a comment about our growing addiction to convenience. I have no problem with paper plates per se – they were designed to make things more convenient – you know, picnics, hikes, sprawling family gatherings and the like. I feel the same way about disposable nappies and plastic water bottles. They are useful in certain situations. The problem is, they’re no longer mere conveniences, they’re the norm, and we have completely lost touch with where and what they come from.
Just a few plates
Don’t bother trying to determine whether paper plates are more environmentally friendly than glass or ceramic plates, there are simply too many variables. I for one have no intention of asking the blogger whether her dishwasher is the most energy-efficient model. Or if plate-breaking is a common occurrence in her home, in which case paper would definitely win.
One of the common arguments was that the paper plates could be recycled (most people decided to ignore that it was a full table-setting of disposables) and were therefore not that big a deal. But what about the water used to grow or recycle the raw materials? What about the energy costs of transporting the tree to the mill, the pulp to the factory, the shipment from Chin? Or the virgin plastic used to make the packing? (Click here to read some big old numbers about paper production.)
If you want to live sustainably, which I do, reusable has to be the first choice. One by one, you need to let go of single-use anything (except toilet paper, I am not willing to go there…). Why? Because every non-renewable resource we use (such as the embodied energy of disposable cups and plates) is a resource our children don’t have access to, whether it can be recycled or not.
So what are we to do?
For one, if you find yourself in the kitchen close to tears because you can’t face the dishes, allow yourself to throw a tea-towel over them and worry about it in the morning.
Secondly, think about everything you throw away, including into the recycling. How much of it was grown/extracted, designed, produced, marketed and transported so that it could be used just once and then thrown away?
Finally, if you want to use disposable cups, plates or cutlery occasionally (as in “for an occasion”), source eco-friendly versions such as these. They still come with all the associated embodied energy costs, but these have been consciously minimised. There are some more ideas on eco-friendly entertaining here.
photo credit: Hvnly via photopin cc