Yesterday, my boyfriend and I were at breakfast at one of our favorite restaurants, The Little Grill. One of the reasons we love The Little Grill so much (other than the incredibly delicious food) is because of their values and practices. They use ingredients from local farmers and vendors in their recipes, they're a worker-owned co-op, they provide vegan/vegetarian alternatives to every non-vegan/vegetarian menu option, they compost food waste, and so much more. One thing I really appreciate when I go in there, is that not one single customer has a straw in their drink! Well, yesterday I saw my first straw.
We were sitting next to a family, playing a game of Bananagrams while we waited for our food, when I heard the mother at the table next to us ask the waiter for several straws. I just cringed and tried not to stare in disbelief, as I thought to myself, "hasn't she see ever seen the video of the turtle with the straw stuck in its nostril?!" And, "I didn't even know they had straws here!" As we ate our breakfast, it was all I could think about. That's when I realized that not everyone is at the same point as I am. Not everyone is as informed as I am. Not everyone spends hours researching zero-waste alternatives to every day items. Not everyone has had an eye-opening experience that leads them to re-evaluate their waste production.
So how do we bring awareness to people like this mother, who truly don't know any better? And how do we do it in a way that doesn't seem like we're attacking them and being rude? A great place to start is your workplace, because oftentimes you work with a variety of people with different ideas and values. Unless you work at a composting facility or a sustainability firm, you probably work with people who use disposable coffee cups and plastic straws almost every day. Below are some ideas for spreading awareness in the workplace:
- Start a challenge group. An example of this could be a "Bring Your Own Coffee Cup/Water Bottle" challenge. Everyone who brings their own cup/bottle for a month/week/etc. could be entered into a drawing for a prize, such as a set of reusable bamboo utensils.
- Put a compost bucket in the employee lounge/break room with a sign indicating what should go in it (coffee grounds, soiled napkins, food waste, etc.). Start a sign up list next to it. People with compost piles at their homes can sign up to take the bucket home when it's full.
- Replace the paper towels in the employee bathrooms with reusable hand towels. Even if you might not technically be allowed to replace the paper towels, you could still place reusable cloth towels next to the paper towels with a little sign stating statistics about paper towel usage. One of our favorite statistics is, "If every American reduced the number of paper towels they used by just one per day, we would divert 571,230,000 pounds of paper waste each year." Create a sign-up sheet for taking the towels home and washing them every week or so.
- Create a Green Team! I bet you'd be surprised to see how many people are actually interested in making a difference, even if they've never spoken up before. Or maybe they didn't know they were interested until they saw your poster about assembling a Green Team. Share ideas and brainstorm ways to implement them.
- Live by example. If you always pack your lunch in a reusable container, eat it with reusable utensils, wipe your mouth and hands with a reusable cloth napkin, and drink from a reusable water bottle/coffee mug, people will notice! A lot of the time they'll even comment on it or ask questions. Use this as a teaching moment!
The next time you see someone request straws for their family, remember that their journey has not yet begun. Think about how you could bring awareness to them and help them start their zero-waste journey.
Written by Allie Emerick