Reusable Behavior: Where Does Change Begin

Today, three small stories that touch on the frustration and the hope for getting to sustainability, and how to build a culture and supporting behaviors which amplify resource conservation through such means as container reuse. We are talking about cultural change, like the building of a lean culture, a culture of innovation, or a culture of sustainability and reuse. All of these are intertwined of course, but you get the idea.

First of all, there was a primary school teacher who this school year embarked on a project to eliminate trash in her classroom. She had an idea, which was to institute a pack-in/pack-out classroom, just like is practiced by hikers in wilderness parks. She started by accumulating all of the lunchbox trash for a week. It was a big pile, which he piled up in the classroom to demonstrate the magnitude of the trash the kids were creating. It should be noted here, that this was not a school-wide program, let alone a district-wide approach. She was just one teacher suggesting that her children switch to reusable packaging, but bottom line, whatever packaging residuals the kids had from lunch except for organics, they were obliged to pack them home. This turned out to be an unpopular move, and the project lasted only a few weeks. The opportunity to shape a reusable packaging and trash reduction mindset in this group of young people was lost, at least on this occasion.

A more positive story comes recently out of California, at the college level. During a two-year pilot project and with the support of he U.S. EPA, three University of California campuses dramatically reduced their plastics use through measures such as promoting campus water stations and retrofitting them for easier filling of reusable bottles, while food services and fast food providers were encouraged to eliminate unnecessary packaging. As a result of this project, a new toolkit has been developed.

The Campus Toolkit is a detailed “how to” guide for reducing plastic waste on college campuses and other institutions, including: a Footprint Calculator to determine a campus’ plastic footprint; source reduction plan to eliminate the use of disposable plastic items; changing campus purchasing practices by switching to greener, lower waste products; and establishing campus-wide plastic waste reduction policies. The Campus Toolkit can be downloaded on EPA’s website at:

And the final story took place last Sunday, when my son’s family invited us over to celebrate Mother’s Day. There was some left over carrot cake, which was put in a reusable plastic container for my wife to take home. And as we left and exchanged well wishes, my 5 year-old granddaughter raised her voice above the rest. “Grandma, don’t forget to bring back the container when it’s empty.”

We laughed, of course at this small remark, yet it is the kind of instruction that needs to be said millions of times over, until it comes to us instinctively – in a culture of reusability, responsibility and respect.

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