Friday, April 26, 2013

P is for plastics - images of America

One of the many joys of travelling is seeing how other cultures do normal everyday things. The tendency is not only to look for similarities and differences, but to wonder if they're doing whatever it is better!

Whilst I would love to have taken a tent and camped, it didn't seem particularly friendly. No doubt there were ravenous BEARS roaming around all over the place who'd just woken up and would be looking for a tasty meal - oh, and it was pretty cold as well!

So, motels it was.

In Australia, it's common for motel rooms to have a frig, kettle, either fresh or dinky containers of long-life milk, tea bags, coffee, sometimes cocoa and mostly there'll be small packs of sweet bikkies. Often there'll be a toaster and microwave as well! And there are china cups or mugs and generally real glasses for your water, juice or wine.

So it was with some surprise that we discovered this was not the usual custom in the US, at least where we visited. Plastic, polystyrene and paper were common not only in the rooms, but also where breakfast was included.

I've never seen such huge mounds of plastic after a meal. Large bins were strategically placed and full to overflowing each morning. This was presumably happening in motels all over the country as well as in fast food places everywhere. What an environmental disaster.
Is it because water is so scarce or is it a labour saving strategy? If there are no plates to wash, you don't need to employ anyone for the task, and also don't use water - which makes sense on a small scale, but country wide I'm not so sure.

Someone, somewhere may have done a comparison of the amount of water and cost required to extract oil, transport it to be made into the plastic pellets, then possibly somewhere else to be made into the plastic item, then ship it to the end user. I wonder if it uses less water over the life of the item? And of course, that's not including the environmental problems of disposing of plastics and their enormous role as a pollutant. There's more about plastics here: P is for Plastics and Pollution.

I'd never eaten a meal from a polystyrene bowl or plate before, and can't recommend it, there's an extraordinary amount of waste, polystyrene isn't biodegradable, and it's an unpleasant experience eating from them.  It's horrible stuff however you look at it. The wibbly plastic knife and fork weren't anywhere near capable of the demanding rigours of slicing through a waffle, even though it was freshly made.
 Great beer in a plastic container, just doesn't work ...
Honestly guys, paper plates, made from reliably sourced, sustainable timber must be better! See here for Info about the Sustainable Forestry Program. Some places are doing it really well! I'd love to see all the motel chains follow suite.

So how to manage when you're travelling? We purchased refillable traveller mugs, refilled the water bottles I'd brought from home with tap water, and mostly ate breakfast in our room using one container each that doubled as a bowl. It was sturdy enough to survive! We mostly used our own knives, forks and spoons at the provided breakfast and took a spoon with us when we purchased a drink and wanted to stir it. It mightn't have made a huge difference to the amount of plastic that was disposed, but ... well, it's a start.

Some information about being a responsible traveller is here



Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue .. being aware and doing what we can makes so much sense - so well done ... setting an example.

Cheers Hilary

Sue Travers said...

It can be done Hilary, I suspect most people aren't aware of the problem, but there's no excuse to still be using polystyrenes when there are alternatives.