About once a week, I slide open what I’ve taken to calling my “drawer of shame,” gaze at the plastic cutlery and wooden chopsticks that seem to multiply with each year, and then slam it shut with a sigh. You probably have one, too. Its contents (from takeout orders, from cross-country flights, from who knows where) do not spark joy, but I’m wracked with too much guilt to throw them away. They’ve survived a move from the city to the suburbs, which means I have plastic forks older than my daughter, who turns 11 at the end of the month. They’re a visual reminder of the plastics I have disposed of: Styrofoam clamshells, sushi trays, waxy paper pails, clear salad bowls, double-walled soup containers, sauce cups, and—deep heave—straws. And lids. So many lids.
Since plastic never truly goes away, you might say our entire planet is one giant drawer of shame. You can blame it on our obsession with convenience, and nowhere do we require convenience more than in the food and drink we order for takeaway and delivery. Take cups. Americans throw out 120 billion disposable cups every year, or 363 paper, plastic, and Styrofoam cups per person. Even the most prosaic coffee cups come with a sleeve, a stirrer, some sugar packets, and— you betcha—a lid.
“All this stuff for just one cup that will be thrown in the trash,” says Samantha Sommer, program manager of ReThink Disposable, a Clean Water Action initiative that transitions businesses from single-use products. “That’s insane.”