For the entirety of April, I'm not throwing anything away. That means no trash and no recyclables; nothing disposable.
Other than to raise awareness and to celebrate Earth Month, the purpose of my experiment is to discover whether or not someone like me-- a young, poor, busy, concerned artist living in NYC-- can significantly reduce his waste stream without too much hassle. I want to evaluate what challenges are legit and unavoidable, and where I'm just being lazy.
1. I am composting food scraps and continuing to use recycled toilet paper.
2. I can use packaged products that were already in my kitchen and bathroom before I started the experiment.
3. Any time that my experiment is unsuccessful I will save my trash for study.
4. If I have no non-disposable option, or if I cannot afford the non-disposable option, I will not deny myself basic needs for the sake of the experiment.
I'm a week into my experiment, and so far I've had moderate success. In general, cafes, restaurants and bars are happy to comply with my unusual request for food without napkins, straws, wax paper, or disposable cups and utensils. Thwarting the habitual triple-bagging at stores is as simple as whipping out a reusable bag. Once or twice a week I buy groceries at the Greenmarket in Union Square, and if I stick to a budget and shop around, I don't spend any more than I would at Trader Joe's for equivalent meals (less, if you consider the environmental cost of TJ's growing and shipping procedures). In rehearsals, we make edits to the original script in pencil and on computers, and other office work has remained within my laptop and phone, so I haven't had to discard any paper. I bring light items in my backpack to help me: reusable water bottle, reusable coffee container, tupperware, camping spork, foldable plastic plate/bowl, small towel and handkerchief.
I find I am gaining awareness of my habits, consuming less frivolously/eating moderately, having interesting conversations with strangers and getting better at planning my day in advance.
But I keep stumbling over the little things that are easy to neglect: gum wrappers, Band-aids, bags of discount apples at the Greenmarket, toilet paper tubes, the magazine subscription I forgot to put on hold...
NYC is a disposable city. Even with our recent recycling upgrades (we can now recycle nearly all plastics, including take-out containers and yogurt cups) and trial composting in Brooklyn, we're a city of 8 million people on trash overdrive, and I am no exception. It's so easy for me to cheat; the systems around me are set up for convenience, not sustainability. Also, I am extraordinarily busy in April, when we mount our annual Big Green Theater Festival at The Bushwick Starr (see above), and my mind is rightfully preoccupied with things other than trash. The experiment can easily feel burdensome. My goal for the coming week is to find joy and ease in it, while staying practical. Stay tuned!
Bought flatbread at Greenmarket stand. Woman running stand handed it to me without paper. Unprompted, she expressed hope that the city is on the brink of big cultural change re: waste-- believes a ban on plastic bags is inevitable, etc.
Went to Kickshaw in Astoria for a meeting. Have been to Kickshaw numerous times and I know they offer cloth napkins, real plates, silverware and glassware, so my guard was down. Tea came with bar napkin between cup and saucer; sandwich came with wax paper underneath.
Treated myself to a doughnut at Dun-Well in Bushwick. After offering to hand me the doughnut by using two spoons (in lieu of tongs, and in the face of disposable wax paper and rubber gloves, as is customary), the barista and I talked about NYC's strict Health Code. I'll admit, it was the first time I've really thought about this challenge. PS- Foolishly ordered the PB&J doughnut and I didn't have my towel with me, so I juggled oozing jelly and spent the rest of the afternoon with a sticky beard.
Asked panini maker at Greenstreet Salad to give me panini to-go in my red fold-up plate-bowl thing. He, and the cutomers around me, seemed fascinated by this object. He said it made him think of Greenbox, a start-up that offers pizza boxes that fold and tear in such a way to avoid having to use paper plates and tupperware storage.
Went to a party for Blessed Unrest. Almost bought a bottle of beer, but caught myself. Instead, used my collapsable camping cup and drank scotch.
Saw a friend's play, came home with a paper program. Not sure how to categorize this... I collect programs (have since college), yet I am still accumulating something disposable, which is against my rules. This issue of paper programs is a continuous conundrum for me: SHC never prints programs, and I ultimately believe it to be a wasteful tradition, but as an audience member I appreciate having something tangible from a performance to take home with me. Will continue to ponder.
Took my 5-year-old friend to the pediatrician. A doctor's office is a trash-slap in the face, for sure: when a room needs to remain sterilized, waste is inevitable. Would I be able to conduct this experiment if my job required me to throw away as much plastic, paper and medical supplies as a doctor does every day? Health is important, making our mountains of medical waste a massive conundrum.
At Thai restaurant, thinking about how deep this goes. Most of the ingredients in front of me originally came in packaging, and in boxes shipped from far away. There is likely so much waste accumulated before I even sit down to eat. Am I cheating by eating at restaurants? Am I cheating when I buy unpackaged produce from the grocery store? Should I consider the waste created by the people I exchange goods and services with? When I sit down in a Thai restaurant and there is a paper napkin already pre-set in front of me, am I cheating by putting the napkin on my neighbor's table? (The answer to the third question is "yes").
A nasty illness came on quick.
The worst time for me to get sick.
I have a hankie, but I know
There surely won't be just one blow.
At home, a t-shirt will suffice,
But on the train, that's not so nice.
To tissue, or not to?
Needed vegetables, and no time to shop at Greenmarket. Stopped in Bushwick grocery called Hana Natural. In the entire store, the only products without packaging were tomatoes, potatoes, onions, ginger and bok choy. Bought some of each. Couldn't help but feel like the little stickers on the fresh fruit were taunting me.
Cleaning a bathroom, pondering cardboard toilet paper tubes. These poor little guys inevitably get thrown in the bathroom trash can, instead of recycled with their fellow cardboards. Are we doing this out of convenience, or somehow convincing ourselves that the tube actually is trash? The neglect of toilet paper tubes was an initial inspiration for URANUS (a play about waste), the first in our Planet Play series. In the play, cardboard tubes are used to represent William Herschel's famous telescopes.
This week presented two big challenges to my April experiment: illness and tech. The days leading up to our Big Green Theater performances (Today and tomorrow only!) were brutal: long, late hours, and I'm sick as a dog. On top of that, I performed Don't Be Sad, Flying Ace! on Tuesday morning to a group of middle school students in the East Village, so my body has not had a chance to recover, and my responsibilities were great. Such a week and state of health demanded:
-Medicine (in plastic bottles and little cardboard boxes with excessive paper instructions)
-Increased toilet paper. As much as I have tried to use only cloth and other materials to blow my nose, the clogs are constant and I have needed to use TP on many occasions, or else snot all over my cast, crew and fellow subway riders. I prefer TP to tissues because A) less packaging B) it's already in my bathroom and C) I usually don't need an entire tissue.
-Take-out. On the eve of our first early morning school performance, my production team and I are up all night putting finishes touches to our technical elements. My attention was needed everywhere, and I did not have time to leave the theater to get food. I chose to go in on a delivery of Indian food, which of course came in hard plastic take-out containers, paper bag, plastic bag, plastic utensils wrapped in plastic, paper napkins, aluminum foil... the list goes on. It was jarring and frustrating, to suddenly be stuck with a bag full of plastic, taking up more space than all the trash I've collected over the past three weeks.
I was also faced with a conundrum this week:
There is waste being created by the production that I am ultimately responsible for. We build our productions sustainably, and there will be little thrown away at strike, but the process of making our world includes using a certain amount of disposable building materials. Big Green Theater is my full-time job in April; shouldn't I be including production waste in my experiment? Shouldn't I be saving the scraps of tape, hot glue, velcro wrappers, screws, paint, cloth, wood, etc. the way I am saving napkins and wax paper?
On a brighter note:
Beginning to appreciate frequenting the same neighborhood food joints. Having lived in a residential neighborhood of Queens for nine years, and being someone who likes variety, I've never really had local haunts. But this time of year, the four-block radius surrounding The Bushwick Starr becomes home. The salad place, the coffee shop, the perogi deli... now they don't give me strange looks when I whip out my red foldable plate-bowl. Instead, they ask me how my experiment is going, and I give them an update. I recognize something important here... a tiny glimmer, but it's blatant: culture shifts by strangers having conversations about something new.
And on the best note:
I am incredibly proud of this year's Big Green Theater production. The plays are hilarious, epic, touching and completely worth seeing. My cast and crew are on point, and The Starr is glowing with joy at the increasing success of this unique and beautiful program. I truly hope you'll come join us today or tomorrow. More info here.