Life measured in Coffee Cups, Plastic Packaging and Plain Brown Paper

I loved having our house packed up professionally a few weeks ago for the move to Boise. The movers were courteous, professional and tidy. They worked while I surfed the internet and ran errands. But on arrival, I quickly figured out the downside.

While the boxes were all labeled, I still had no idea what was where. Finding books from the living room mixed in with kitchen utensils, was one thing, but discovering that this thorough crew had unpacked things that had been packed for 20 years – my father’s model trains; someday I’ll have the space to display them again, I am sure of it – and mixed them in with other items, was both annoying and emotionally disconcerting.

But the real reason I’ll never let anyone pack for me again, even if, as in this case, someone else is paying for it, is the packaging. Yes, nothing broke, but the volume of waste generated to move our family a few hundred miles was absolutely staggering. I couldn’t stand to take a picture of the mounds of boxes and packaging – the most I can do is show you what it took to wrap up one wax candlestick:

And I had a big box of these candles, that the movers unboxed, wrapped in paper, and re-packed.

I know when we’ve packed for our own moves in the past, we’ve wrapped things in towels, clothes, whatever was at hand, and as a result also used far less boxes.  I can’t remember any serious damage on any occasion. I’ve moved across the country three different times.

A few weeks before moving day I read No Impact Man, by Colin Beavan.  I found both book and movie engaging and at times irritating; why deny that the experiment was publicity stunt – it was a successful stunt, and brought attention to an important cause. But Beavan left me determined to reduce the amount of garbage/recycling I produce. Paper coffee cups seem like a good place to start. Americans use an estimated 23 billion of these cups a year. If you buy 14 cups a month (via UW professor Craig Zumbrunnen –see slide 10), you can keep 63 pounds of solid waste out of landfills, and save nearly 1000 gallons of waste water over the course of one year just by using a travel mug.

I had plenty of travel cups, just waiting to be used.

It seems clear that recycling/composting cups probably isn’t enough – many recycling facilities don’t accept the cups because of plastic coating – and even when they are collected, it turns out they may be shipped all the way to China by way of Indonesia for recycling. There’s certainly nothing green about that.

So my last few days in Seattle, when I headed out to my favorite coffee shop for my organic-free-trade-latte (and they are easy to find in the Emerald City, unlike here in Boise, where there are just a few spots outside my own kitchen, where I can have my coffee and my principles too) I brought along my own mug. It really wasn’t that hard. A few times I forgot, and I so I went without, and saved a few bucks by having coffee at home. And I stashed a travel mug in the car, so that if I am out running errands, I have no excuse to backslide.

I’m a little late to this party; somehow I never heard about the challenges from  Betacup or Carbonrally, but at least I’m on board now.  Too bad there’s no way that even I can drink enough coffee to make up for the damage done by our professional packing job.


2 responses to this post.

  1. So, you’re undoubtedly way ahead of me on this but, if the packaging boxes aren’t too heavily taped, they should be easy to pay forward. Often times, just having your friends know you have some is sufficient, but alternatively, a Craigslist posting should work and you can leave them stacked outside for folks to collect without disturbing you.


    • We did give away most of the boxes, thankfully. But a lot of the packing material itself had to go into the recycling bin. There was way more than anyone was willing to take!


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