Thursday, November 27

Noitalever: Fast Food? Really?

Hello, all! I have very pleasant news, though it's a bit taunting to those of you who do not live in the Pacific Northwest.

Burgerville has long been my favorite fast food restaurant. It's puzzling, perhaps, because I'm a vegetarian and yet I harbor this love affair with a fast food restaurant with "burger" in its name. However, Burgerville has two (TWO!) amazing vegetarian burgers. One is a simple garden burger with all of the goodies, and the other is a black bean burger with chipotle sauce.

Burgerville is expensive, averaging $4-6 per sandwich and $3-4 per milkshake. What it has always had going for it, though, is that all of the food is local. The onions are Walla Wallas, the cheese is Tillamook, and the milkshakes are always made from in-season nuts or berries (chocolate hazelnut, anyone?). Basically, great ingredients.

On Tuesday, Jesse and I went into Burgerville and I kind of had a very sad moment as we walked up. I realized that this would be the first time that I could not have a milkshake because this is the first time I've been there since becoming hardcore-no-plastic. I sighed, and accepted this as we walked in.

As we ordered, the straws caught my eye. The wrappers said "100% Compostable." I scoffed, thinking it was the el-fake-o "biodegradable" plastic that isn't really biodegradable at all. The cashier, however, assured me that they were made from corn. He told me that Burgerville was "going green."

And then, I challenged him. Rapid-fire, I examined the restaurant. Cups? (Corn) Lids? (Corn) To-go containers? (Biodegradable - he showed me one) Wrappers? (Paper)

(At this point, I got teary and ordered a milkshake. I actually cried a little...)

All Burgerville restaurants are powered by wind, he told me. (I looked it up - they buy wind credits that equal 100% of their energy use!)

Okay, I said, gearing up for the ultimate challenge. Here is where many people fall short: they wrap up their compostable goodies in plastic trash bags and send those to the landfill, where even food will never break down if it isn't exposed to wind and rain.

"And your trash bags?"


Okay, okay...I only had one more question...

"Do you have a composter?"
"Not yet," he said, "As we're the farthest south. We get everything last. But half of the Burgerville locations have composters, and we should be getting one soon."


I am going to write a letter to Burgerville, thanking them for giving me a reason to love them. I went ahead and got a gift card for my cousin (plastic, but really...that would have been too good to be true, right?) in order to support the company and give Vaughn tasty foods.

Burgerville only has locations in Oregon and Washington, so it is unfortunate that plastic-free fast food is not the norm for all of us. However, as Burgerville continues in this business model, we can lift them up as an example to the other "Burger" chiefs of the world.

Tuesday, November 18

Noitalever: Guest Column

I was featured as a guest columnist this week for the university newspaper, The Argonaut. You can see the online version of my article here.

I wrote this article in order to give the students here some easy options to transition to the "less plastic" lifestyle. I wanted to present concrete ideas, along with some of the deeper philosophy about consumption. I'm eager to hear from you as well.

It's funny - they changed two of my usages of "Aquafina," but left two. Silly newspaper people - did they think Aquafina would be so threatened that it'd sue us?

Sunday, November 9

Noitalever: Less-Plastic Christmas 2

I just had an epiphany, and I wanted to share it with you guys.

In my last post, I talked about the waste that wrapping Christmas gifts entails. Jeanie recommended using gift bags that can be reused, and that still wasn't sitting well with me - those bags are paper, lined with plastic and just not truly sustainable. For the past few days, I've been trying to figure out how I was going to present everything in such a way that my friends and family weren't like, "Um, you forgot to wrap this."

Then, I saw this set of bags on Reusable Bags, and I got excited for about two seconds. First of all, the idea is great - use cotton bags to replace paper or plastic ones. However, I wasn't so keen on the idea of some company determining what patterns of fabric I'd get, and what sizes. Also, I know from experience that it doesn't cost that much to make cotton bags.

Do you see where this is going?

And then it hit me: Hello! I can sew! I don't know why I was considering another bit of consumerism when I have everything at my disposal to make bags myself. And, if I make them myself, I can pick the sizes and patterns that fit my needs. And (and!), it's more meaningful if I put my own sweat and blood (well, hopefully there won't be blood...) into it.

So. That's that. Hooray.

Thursday, November 6

Noitalever: The first step is to reduce, reduce, reduce!

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about consumption in general. We have a culture driven by consumption, because consumption is the thing that makes people lots and lots of money.

Two examples of "traditions" that equal consumption:

"Back to School" shopping - We are trained from an early age to want new school supplies at the beginning of every school year. Have we used our pencils and notebooks to exhaustion? Probably not. And, whereas children may outgrow clothing in a single year, college students will not. We need to examine our needs, and not just participate in this tradition mindlessly.

Wrapping Christmas gifts - Why do we wrap Christmas gifts? To deepen the suspense, some would say. Or because it makes them pretty. Okay, but what about all of that waste?

My solutions:

I have a goal not to buy a single new pencil or pen until I have exhausted my current supply. I suspect that this will take YEARS because of all of the school supplies I've accumulated over my lifetime. Yes, mechanical pencils and pens are made of plastic, but I already own them. Throwing them away would be really wasteful. I also have stopped buying new notebooks every semester. I am using up all of the notebooks I have, and when I am done with those, I will come up with an environmentally-friendly alternative like a recycled notebook.

I don't ever want to have to buy another pen. Therefore, I've switched to writing in pencil for everything except journaling and important documents (checks come to mind).

As for Christmas gifts, I am not going to wrap any this year. And let me explain what a sacrifice this will be for me: I love wrapping gifts and it's one of my favorite holiday traditions. However, this is not a sustainable tradition in its current state. Maybe my challenge will be finding ways to wrap gifts and love the earth at the same time.

Other ideas about reduction:

Have you ever thought about how much toothpaste you use, versus how much you actually need? I've been running an experiment where I only use a dab of toothpaste instead of putting a hugely long strip on the bristles (half of which always fell off anyway). This has enabled me to make a tube of toothpaste last...gasp...three times as long!

"Reduce" is not the easiest step in the cycle, but it is the most beneficial to the earth. The recycling process still takes energy, so the best thing that we can do is reduce what we consume to begin with. A good example is reducing the amount of newspapers that you buy - read the paper online or share a subscription with three or four people at work. A newspaper can be recycled, yes, but if you never buy it in the first place, you haven't used the manufacturing OR the recycling energy.

Saturday, November 1

Noitalever: Less-Plastic Christmas

Today, I started to consider less plastic gift-giving. I have a slew of family and friend birthdays coming up, not to mention Christmas. I need some ideas, but first let me give you my own:

Give memories - buy someone concert tickets, or a "rain check" for taking them out to dinner. Memories are always better than material goods, and they don't require any packaging. :)

Make your own - bake cookies, crochet a scarf, etc

Invest in the person - this is perhaps a better example with kids, but instead of buying toys, you can fund piano lessons for the year or provide money for a school trip.

But if you are giving "stuff," how should you go about it? Is it fair of me to say to my family and friends, "I'll like your gift better if it is plastic-free"? And what about our cultural perception that used gifts just aren't as good (books, for example)?

This post is really just a brainstorming post (I need your ideas!), but we'll be speaking about this more in weeks to come.