What’s Your New Year’s Eco-Footprint?

2013ftv_oshry_aleezaShifting gears out of summer mode is extra challenging this year due to the early arrival of the High Holy Days. As such, many of us will be looking for shortcuts to ease the scheduling mayhem.  But these shortcuts don’t need to come at the expense of our pocketbooks or the environment. Making mindful choices and planning ahead is more sustainable and less wasteful.

One common stressor is packing lunches and snacks. Grabbing a handful of individually pre-packaged, colorful, single-serving food products is an attractive option. There are shelves of options to choose from. But if you’ve ever compared the number of ounces and price difference for individually packaged versus full box, you see you’re paying more for less food. That price difference is for  the packaging. Bottom line: You are paying to make more trash. The trends in disposables are well thought out and planned. In the late 1980s, there was an upswing in the number of pre-packaged and shelf-stable foods in response to a poll of moms who identified packing lunches as their No. 1 hassle. In 1989, Oscar Mayer won “Snack Food Package of the Year” for Lunchables with their novel gift-wrap design.

It’s not just in the food industry; we’ve seen an incredible shift over the past few decades in the number of disposable products, including for meal service. Featuring elegant and themed designs, “fancy” paper and plastic wear has become the accepted cultural norm. It is now common to see it used for Shabbat and holiday meals. And despite that some of these products could be recycled if cleaned, a common practice is to roll up the plastic tablecloth cover with the rest of the dirty disposables and, in one swoop, dump in the garbage.

So, what’s the downside if it makes your life easier? Think about how many holiday and Shabbat meals there are in September alone, let alone the rest of the year. Purchasing disposables for each of those meals adds a hefty price tag. Nondisposables such as china and linens have a one-time fee and can be used for years.

And paying for heavily packaged products is pricier on the front and back ends. Municipal fees for waste disposal are increasing every year. The more garbage we produce, the more those costs will continue to rise. Decreasing waste production is the only option for reducing environmental impact and related fees. Ever since my family installed a small composting bin three years ago, we put out one garbage can every three or more weeks. And it’s usually not even full.

The New Year is a great time to take stock of our habits and evaluate if there’s room for improvement. What will be your New Year’s eco-footprint?

Here are a few ideas:
• Use nondisposables for meals.

• Separate your waste and recycle. Try composting.

• Take a reusable bag whenshopping.

• Pack lunch and snacks in reusable containers, bags and bottles

• Refrain from individually pre-packaged foods

Chag sameach!

Aleeza Oshry is a local professional geologist, educator and sustainability expert. 

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