Banishing plastic: Local residents and businesses ditch single-use plastics for reusable, compostable materials

To put it casually, all the plastic we’ve produced is really starting to pile up. A more serious sort of person might say we’re facing a global plastics crisis.
 
  Compostable to-go containers
  and utensils are showing up
  at restaurants around the region,
  such as these from The Sunshine
  Kitchen in Homewood.
(Provided
  photo)
 
Since we invented plastic about 60 years ago, humans have manufactured 8.3 billion metric tons of the indelible stuff and 6.3 billion tons ended up in the waste stream, according to National Geographic.
 
Of that nearly incomprehensible amount of plastic trash, only 9% has been recycled. The rest was dumped in landfills and made its way to natural environments, especially the world’s oceans. All this plastic will take centuries to degrade and it will never disappear completely.
 
We see these negative consequences demonstrated through dramatic viral videos and news stories focusing on animals harmed by plastic waste. In March, a dead whale washed ashore in the Philippines was found to have 88 pounds of plastic in its stomach.
 
As the oceans become littered, plastic waste that makes it into a proper recycling stream these days finds itself unwanted. Prior to 2018, China was the largest purchaser of American plastic waste, material it used to create new plastic fibers. 
 
In January 2018, for a number of reasons, China banned almost all imports of plastic waste. United States recyclers have been shifting to other Asian markets, but those countries possess neither the capacity nor the will to offset the impact of China’s pullout.
 
Whatever happens to the recycling industry, it’s clear that making a real impact in the global plastics problem comes down to consumption. People concerned about the environment are reckoning their plastics usage to reduce their reliance and shift to more sustainable materials.
 
Keep a straw on your keychain
  Beth Kosiba demonstrates a
  reusable collapsible metal
  straw that fits in a keyring
  when not in use.
(Eric Crump/
  H-F Chronicle)
 
If you go out for dinner with Beth Kosiba, don’t be too surprised if she unclips a portable keychain straw to place in her drink or if she pulls her own to-go container out of her purse.
 
Avoiding plastic straws and using their own takeout containers are small steps Kosiba and her husband, Matthew, take to limit the amount of plastic they use. 
 
“Over the past five years, I’ve become increasingly aware of the amount of plastic I use on a daily basis,” Kosiba said. “Recycling is one step, but what about not recycling at all? What about buying something that can be reused in the first place?”
 
  Beth Kosiba demonstrates a
  reusable container cover that
  can replace plastic wrap.

  (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)
 
That notion launched Kosiba, of Homewood, into considering her daily habits and how she could modify her behavior to reduce her plastic usage. She completely stopped consuming bottled water, instead drinking from reusable cups she carries on her work commute and elsewhere. 
 
Even though it was a little strange at first, the Kosibas also started carrying collapsible food containers in their car for packing to-go orders or leftovers from restaurants.
 
“The first time you do anything, it’s weird and different,” Kosiba said. “The more you do it, the more it feels normal. The toughest thing is remembering so that it just becomes a habit.”
 
She also keeps a stash of stainless steel straws to use at home, in addition to the collapsible keychain straw that was a gift from her boss. Though restaurant staff is sometimes surprised, Kosiba said she never encounters push-back for wanting to use her own dishes.
 
B.Y.O. Cup
Michele MacLeod said restaurant and festival workers are usually happy to fill her reusable cup when she asks for it in place of a disposable cup. It’s something she’s been doing for years after getting the idea from attending music festivals.
 
“We go to Newport Folk Festival every year and that’s one place I bring my cup,” MacLeod said. “It’s a very common thing at festivals. You buy the souvenir cup and you use it for the whole weekend. They give you a break on the price of your drink, too.”
 
In addition to faraway festivals, MacLeod said she also carries a reusable cup to the Homewood Farmers Market. It’s one way she reduces plastics usage, a method she hopes the village picks up on. Homewood can sell branded reusable cups for use at its events, eliminating waste from plastic cups.
 
“Although it’s pricey up front, it’s cheaper in the long run,” she said. “If you have a good stainless tumbler, it can last a long time and be used for hot and cold.”
 
Around their Homewood house that MacLeod shares with her husband, Ian, and their teenage sons, Quinn and Graham, the family uses cleaning products in glass bottles. MacLeod buys bulk concentrate and mixes it with water or vinegar, reducing the waste of plastic bottles of cleaning fluid.
 
“You don’t need a million different cleansers,” she said. “I also don’t mind seeing the glass bottles out on the counter. They’re more attractive than plastic.”
 
Large-scale attitude shifts
Personal plastics reduction can make a dent in the worldwide problem. However, efforts from businesses and larger institutions have the power to make a larger impact and even shift cultural trends.
 
  As part of their business
  philosophy, owners of The
  Sunshine Kitchen Rachel Lewis,
  left, and Susan Barzso do not
  use any single-use plastic
  containers or utensils in their
  vegan dishes.
(Provided photo)
 
Many local businesses, including Redbird Cafe in Homewood and Flossmoor Station Restaurant, reportedly use only paper straws. Flossmoor Library announced in March it will no longer give patrons plastic bags for their books and DVDs.
 
The Village of Flossmoor is working to reduce the use of plastics at local events, according to village spokeswoman Amy Kent.
 
Beginning in 2018, Flossmoor Fest organizers now hand out donated cloth tablecloths to booth owners, eliminating the use of plastic table coverings. The event’s Pop-Up Pub now uses compostable cups instead of plastic.
 
At the village’s inaugural Brew Fest in 2018, they gave attendees boxed water instead of bottled and also glass tasting cups instead of plastic.
 
“One other thing the village does is provide every new resident a Flossmoor-branded reusable bag with our new resident information packet,” Kent said via email.
 
  Amie Day, who creates the
  chalkboard menus for The
  Sunshine Kitchen, prepares
  to chow down on a dish served
  in a compostable paper tray
  with a bamboo fork.
(Provided 
  photo)
 
“And, of course, we support and encourage all Flossmoor businesses to cut down on single-use plastics through the Flossmoor Green Commission and a number of different campaigns.”
 
Some consumers are demanding these changes, while others are happily surprised to learn they can make simple adjustments to help the environment.
 
Rachel Lewis, co-owner of The Sunshine Kitchen, said customers of their vegan and vegetarian food are thrilled the company uses only eco-friendly and compostable serving materials. 
 
“A lot of people seem very happy about it,” said Lewis, who owns and operates the business with her partner, Susan Barzso. “People really like the paper straws and the bamboo flatware. We get a lot of comments and we’re happy to talk about it.”
 
The pop-up restaurant, which sells food at Homewood’s indoor winter Farmers Market and Wednesday evening summer market, has avoided plastic packaging since its inception. Lewis said this practice is central to The Sunshine Kitchen’s philosophy and there was never any question they would use non-plastic packaging, even though it’s more expensive.
 
“We didn’t even look at Styrofoam or plastic bags or any of that. We looked for the best eco-friendly options. Sure, it’s more expensive, but you’re going to pay for it somewhere (in cost or waste). It all goes somewhere,”  Lewis said. 
 
“Let’s say we sell 100 salads. We would feel pretty crappy if that meant 100 plastic forks, 100 plastic bags and 100 plastic containers were going to a landfill somewhere.”
 
Lewis said she hopes compostable food packaging will become more normalized and mainstream, especially as people gain awareness of plastic’s negative impact on the environment. 
 
Even if she can only reduce the amount of plastic waste coming from her small business, it’s worthwhile to Lewis. She said each person can make an impact through small changes.
 
“We can’t control what other people do, but we’re committed to doing this for us, and hopefully it makes other people think,” she said. “We should all be caring about our waste and where it goes.”
 

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