Ashland has taken some steps to reduce single-use throw away items like plastic bags and providing straws only when requested at participating restaurants. Those measures are starting points to get our attention. By themselves they don’t create the paradigm shift to stop our current practice of category 5 hurricane strength consumerism.
Choosing to eliminate single-use plastic bags and straws offers a “pause” to slow down enough to notice the sheer volume of these items we amass and toss every darn day. If we follow this train of thought, we might then notice the epic “wasting” we do with other items, like: to-go and takeout (individually packaged items) grabs for food and drink. It’s the packaging choices (used once and then trashed), not necessarily the activity.
What’s true is that there is no container that is recyclable or “compostable” on a commercial scale in the Rogue Valley. Despite what your neighbor may tell you or what you tell yourself, the spent disposable cups, lids, utensils, plates and clamshells belong in the landfill. There are some only paper products that you might shred and place in your personal home composting system (not in a green or blue cart).
When takeout products are lined with a plant-based or petroleum-derived film (to make them stronger), that material does not degrade quickly. When it eventually breaks down, it joins the growing list of “micro-plastics” threatening ocean health and we don’t yet know the impacts micro-plastics may have on dry land. We do know how micro-plastics kill and torture marine life when these minute particles are confused as food during various stages of their decomposition.
Today’s WasteNot article celebrates a local WasteNot champion who leads our community by example. He offers a choice to his customers to re-use and avoid single-use materials for meals “on the go.” Javier Cruz is not just the maker of tasty food. He is the creator/chef/business owner of the Simple Cafe on A Street next to the Ashland Ace Hardware store.
Javier has initiated a program for customers by offering a plastic re-usable container with an attached lid for take-out orders. He charges a one-time fee of $5 (I think he should charge more to cover his actual costs). When the container is returned, he sanitizes it and returns it into circulation. If you dine in, Javier offers utensils, plates, and drinking cups that are washed and re-used as well. The Simple Cafe does so much in a very small space. The quality and integrity of his business practices shines as brightly as the smiles he and his staff offer with every order.
I am sure Javier has some challenging days, but from a customer’s vantage point, every day feels sunny at the Simple Cafe. Supporting local, organic, affordable and very tasty food has an added bonus of also allowing customers to get their food “on the go” in a non-trash making way. Simple Cafe makes it easy to eat well and conveniently get food to go that offers an alternative to disposables.
The Ashland Conservation Commission, inspired by Javier’s program, has formed a subcommittee to look at whether it would be possible to expand the program to include other interested restaurants. SOU has a re-usable program too! The Conservation Commission and city of Ashland have applied for some grant dollars to pilot a city-wide program that initially will focus on five restaurants that will join Simple Cafe in a coordinated effort to offer re-usable take out containers. If successful, it can be expanded.
Checkout the Simple Cafe website at simple.cafe. Portland has a very successful GoBox program. For $22 annually or $4 a month, customers can use these containers at over 70 establishments. (More info at Goboxpdx.com.)
Convenience has its place and it too often includes a financial and environmental cost. Simple Cafe and some other local restaurants are committed to providing an alternative to “on-the-go trash making.” In this case, we are hopeful with the prospects of creating a new opportunity where we can have our cake and eat it too — AND leave no trace. Please join us in being the change we wish to see in our world.
Risa Buck has served on the Ashland Conservation Commission and in waste prevention education for more than a dozen years. You may reach her through firstname.lastname@example.org. Find past WasteNot columns online at bit.ly/rbwastenot2.