reusable culture is a must

Is our culture focused on reusable or disposable items? When I told hubby about the idea of this blog – that we should learn from what people around the world are doing more sustainably than we are – he said, “Well they’re probably not getting 3 coffees a day, each in its own disposable cup.” Yeah.

Well, I’m not doing that either, but I guess he might be. He’s not that big on washing dishes (excuse: severe eczema), and many of us have trouble with the planning and preparation that it takes to #bringyourown reusable bottles & bags. It’s a shame that we have such a strong culture of disposable product use. It takes active effort to resist and insist on real cups, plates, flatware, etc. How did we come to this? And what kind of mindset & culture shift will it take to change?

#BringYourOwn: Let’s Talk About It is a campaign by Kleen Kanteen (a certified B corporation) about reusable containers in our culture.

Their videos show how a number of factors work together to make using disposables the path of least resistance. The “Will You Fill?” video above has two important points: 1) That we might assume we can’t BYO to a place like a drive-thru, but we usually can, and 2) that sometimes people think disposables are the only sanitary option.

As an activist for a plastic bag ban or fee around 2009, I heard the argument that reusable bags are dirty and full of germs and would cause a public health crisis. Well, yes, there are germs all around us (according to one article, the bottom of the child seat in your shopping cart is pretty dirty), but we will survive without wrapping everything we touch in plastic. The nice metal cup in the video above is surely dishwasher safe, and of course we must remember to empty our reusable mugs promptly and wash them well. I suppose I can concede that it would be possible for a reusable product to harbor mold (those straws in the kiddie cups?) or bacteria, but we just need to learn what receptacles and cleaning practices best avoid these problems, not to avoid reusable bags altogether.

Perhaps there’s a reason that natural woven baskets were the norm for a long time in Eastern Europe. They‘re always aired out and dry, unlike some bags that can get warm & moist when stored in the trunk of your car, ready to breed bacteria. Sadly, I’ve never owned such a basket, but let me tell you about one time when I wish I did.

It was a vivid moment of culture shock for me

when I brought my disposable US norms to a corner store in Baja, Hungary in 1993. I was 14, on my own at a music institute for two weeks. I remember going to a small food market, maybe the first I had ever shopped at independently in Hungary. I filled a cart with snack foods, drinks, and knick-knacks and paid for it.

When it was all piled on the far side of the conveyor belt, the cashier eyed me warily. Where was my basket or bag? I hadn’t brought any such thing with me, assuming that they’d have bags for me there, just as they do in every single store you ever shop at in the US. They didn’t. So I had to walk back to my dorm carrying all those items in my arms, trying not to drop anything breakable. It wasn’t easy, but it takes just one experience like that to remind you to #BringYourOwn forever.

Do you have a third world convenience product crisis story to share? Or a good routine for washing your reusable bags? Stay tuned for more on these topics in coming posts, especially on #ZeroWasteWednesdays.

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