Plastics – If You Socialize, Read This

Plastic Cups, Circa 2023

Informal fundraising lunches. Business dinners hosted in the office. Group get-togethers with cocktails and snacks. Chances are you’ve been to at least one of these functions. You slap on a name tag and wade into the crowd, chatting, perhaps making some new connections and becoming thoroughly inspired by the speaker. Or you enter and see no one you know, later nodding off after the artfully arranged dessert but during the way-too-long program.

These things happen. You know what else probably happens?

You’re probably awash in plastic.

And I don’t mean the microplastics that are unseen and undetected, the tiny particles we’re all breathing, eating, and drinking. I mean the obvious stuff: the plastic glasses for your Pinot Grigio and iced tea, the packages of plastic forks and knives (in little plastic packets) for your southwestern veggie wrap, the heavy plastic plates stacked up for the buffet line, the plastic-wrapped cookies handed out as you make an early departure.

In case you’ve missed out on the news, we’re experiencing significant harm as a result of the overuse of fossil fuels and fossil fuel byproducts, such as plastics. They clog our waterways and oceans and landfills, they rest permanently in our bodies, messing with our hormones and our health. They damage and threaten our wildlife, including the fish and fowl so beloved in Florida.

So why are we still cranking out and using so much plastic in these settings?

Why are we drowning in plastic at all these business and social get-togethers we organize, pay for, and attend?

I know: it’s easy. Throw-away plastics seem sanitary. They don’t require kitchens – no washing. Just set out a giant (plastic) trash bag, or two or three, and voila! Mess cleaned up. They seem ‘cheap.’ (In the moment, anyway, because all that harmful impact isn’t included in the cost.) Trust me, I understand the logic.

I run an organization that hosts these very events: lunches, receptions before film screenings, large gatherings in homes and offices and borrowed conference rooms. We used to use plastics too. Of course we did – everyone did.

But a while back I said no more.

I said that the time for indiscriminate use of plastics has passed. We can no longer do this. And we don’t need to. The larger issue of plastic and fossil fuel reduction may seem out of our reach, abstract, someone else’s issue to deal with. But here’s one thing we CAN do – change this hosting pattern!

So we did. We stopped. All our event organizers were told “No plastics.” No single-serve plastic water bottles on the drinks table, no plastic cups or plates, no plastic throw-away tablecloths pinned to tabletops. Inform the bartender, tell the caterers, remind the volunteers.

And you know what? They all figured it out. It did not result in significant additional costs. It was all immensely doable. We request glass water dispensers for self-serve drinks, and we rent racks of china dishes and glasses and simply return them, helping out local rental businesses in the process. We tell caterers to use only ceramic platters under those crudité and hummus spreads.  We go back to doing what was done for many, many years before throw-away plastics became ubiquitous.

But why focus on this seemingly small target when the environment requires so much other work? Why pick on these lovely food-oriented get-togethers?

Why? Here are just a few reasons:

  • We stop feeding the demand for plastics. Do your part to keep fossil fuels in the ground.
  • It’s an ankle-biter – it makes a critically important statement to everyone in attendance: we all need to start thinking differently about single-use plastics.
  • We push for these changes in local catering businesses. If event organizers don’t request (or insist!) on ‘no plastics,’ this change won’t happen.
  • We model that it can be done. We show all our guests and volunteers and speakers that single-serve plastic water bottles and all those other light-weight throw-aways are not necessary.

Yes, you too can do this. If you go to an event that is awash in plastic, speak to the organizers. Or just share this message. But don’t wait.

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9 months ago

What companies appreciate re-usable or biodegradable utensils? Who are the greatest offenders? I heard starbuck’s paper cups had a bit of plastic in them and so weren’t re-cyclable.