My two main reasons for a Nothing-New Year were to (1) generate less garbage and (2) save money.
Yet, despite having been waste-conscious for years and forced into thrift by circumstances for years likewise (not always overlapping), it is amazing how much more challenging it is to be thrifty when you are time-poor and not quite so money-poor as to have your back to wall.
This year started with a bunch of travel. Lucknow, first, for a "working leisure" trip that is typical of our profession. And two days later, Kolkata, to see my folks back home. Coming back, we had a day to sort ourselves out before we were again caught up on the hamster wheel—work from workplace, school, therapy, work from home, long commutes, a fortnight's dust and smog to scrub out...
In just the last fortnight, lessons were learnt on the road, and some challenges wore me out:
- On one trip, we packed food and forgot cutlery and napkins. That was messy. LESSON: As my friend Vru points out, the best-thought-out kit is no use unless you remember to pack it!
- On another, we thought we were being clever and asked for food to be packed by our hosts, so we would not have to buy our own in plastic packaging. We got sandwiches that were in disposable plastic boxes, which in turn were packed by the hotel inside a paper box. Amazing! LESSON: Specify the packaging concern.
- On the flight back home from Kolkata, we ended up seated further apart on the plane than I had bargained for, and our child went into meltdown mode with one parent. This meant I was unable to get to the packed food, which the co-parent had put up in a baggage bin (I am really short), and accepted the in-flight meal, with plastic cutlery, plastic trays and all. I managed to refuse the condiments and cups and beverages, even the excess of paper napkins; but I suspect they were trashed right along with the messy trays. LESSON: Keep your necessities to hand. Next time, I need to use a roomier backpack as personal item so that the food and kit are handy, under the seat in front of me, and not in the carry-on bag.
- Hotel rooms in India only offer plastic bottles for a hygienic supply. I don't have a way around this yet, as it is not really practical to carry three people's worth of hydration for a 3/4-day stay. Best I could do: drink up at mealtimes, and order hydrating meals, so as to need less bottles.
- Hygiene makes waste! Long road-trips in India seem to have this pitfall, that access to a clean toilet must be paid for by the purchase of a meal. It was too often the case. Best I could do: Choose non-cutlery foods, or those that came in reusable trays. At one such, I managed to buy a muffin in paper as the most minimal option and the child got a paper cup of boiled corn, while the spouse had a thali meal in a plastic tray (I was not happy that they each used a plastic spoon and paper napkin, given I had packed cutlery and napkins; but I had promised this would be my journey and I won't be forcing the issue with the rest of the family anyway).
- Some of the foods we packed, such as energy bars and crispbread, came in plastic packets that generated waste :-/ I just do not have the time or organization to make it all from scratch yet.
- On a few occasions, I was able to head my child away from an ecologically poor choice. But he is less than five years old, and sometimes delayed gratification or better alternatives could not stave of the lure of instant satisfaction with a chocolate bar wrapped in plastic, or a drink with a straw. LESSON: Alternatives need to be kept more handy and more attractive; I need a running list and to be organized enough to ensure we aren't in a shop when he is hungry.
- I ended up in a cafe to meet an old friend, who had had a surgery recently and could not take the stairs (we were staying with family, and they don't have an elevator). There was literally nothing I could order that was plastic-free and okay for me or my child to eat or drink (neither of us can handle spicy foods; I struggle with sugars and carbs a lot).
- I had one takeaway meal (yesterday) because everyone else in the family wanted to, and I didn't have my own meal prepared already. LESSON: Keep a back-up meal in the fridge or cupboards, always.
There were some triumphs too:
- We managed to refuse plastic boxes for some cake slices and got them handed over in paper. Which, actually, mixed blessing—I have recently learnt you cannot recycle paper that is contaminated with food!
- I managed to bring food with NO waste for myself on one leg of the road trip and one leg of the flight. I had enough for the child, but he did want to share with the co-parent, who bought meals on both trips.
- Having packed extra empty food containers, I was able to refrigerate leftovers from our in-room meals at the hotel and bring them back for supper.
- We weathered at least one meltdown over a mango drink in a Tetrapak, with plastic straw, and after eating a sandwich (he was tired and hungry), my four-year-old finally conceded a glass jar of strawberry lemonade concentrate, made with seasonal produce and no additives, was a better choice.
- I was able to stick eating at home (or in the hotel) for the rest of the two trips, barring the one cafe visit—which I am super proud of, because nostalgia often fuels the eating out on trips 'home' and adventure on the trips to new destinations.
The biggest overall lesson has been to be a lot more organized around food (that has been the biggest pitfall, I see, over the fortnight), and to be stronger in the face of temptation from family and friends.