If you steer clear of Styrofoam, crave non-disposable cutlery and believe that beer in plastic cups is a discredit to your pursuit of fizzy-cool hoppiness, never fear. Become a garbage-free gourmand, and even improve your city with a daily dose of activism.

Why avoid disposables? Try getting an Italian to enjoy his espresso from the ridged lip of a Styrofoam cup and he'll tell you all about the importance of real cups and dishes for enjoying the experience of food and drink. And then, of course, there's the environmental impact. Take the plastic spoon: sure, no one adores washing dishes, but is it really harder to wash a spoon than it is to locate and drill oil reservoirs, refine crude oil, extract the chemical feedstock used to make plastic, and mold plastic into thousands of tiny, single-use utensils that are then shipped to a landfill where they must then be managed for hundreds of years while they sit without decomposing?

Now there's trash (like biodegradable paper food trays) and then there's Trash (with a capital T, like plastic or Styrofoam containers). Opting for the better of the two is a good start.

Ditching the capital T

Try wrapping your veggie-dog in a napkin or getting your Chinese delivery from restaurants that offer those handy little paper boxes instead of polystyrene (or Styrofoam) containers. Where there's a will, there's a way — and finding alternative containers is a fun way to express your eco-creativity. But that's just the start.

Do one better by using your own containers for take-out or leftovers from your favorite restaurant. It's like the restaurant equivalent of cloth shopping bags to the grocery store. Our local Mexican restaurant has come to know and love us for getting burritos to go in a bread-baking tin. They get a giggle and we get great food without the waste. It's a win-win situation, and the bread tin also makes a great conversation piece at the restaurant. Make sure to be friendly when you ask to use your own container; activism with a smile is always the most effective.

Want to go all the way in eliminating that capital T? Here's the good news: increasingly, several large cities are passing legislation that bans the use of Styrofoam containers in restaurants. Many other cities are considering similar action. Legislation like this is important because Styrofoam is not recyclable in most places and does not quickly decompose, so it sits in landfills. The more Styrofoam we prevent, the fewer open spaces will need to be converted to landfills to hold this Trash (with a capital T). And not all of the trash ends up at the dump: quite a lot finds its way into ocean ecosystems as well. Here's a visual. Chemicals in styrene products are also harmful to human health because they attack the central nervous system.

You can encourage your city to pass a similar ban on Styrofoam by contacting your city council. Also, talk to restaurants and stores that use plastic cutlery or bags about biodegradable plastics. If you already live in one of those forward-thinking cities with a ban on Styrofoam, you can help restaurants by letting them know how much you appreciate them following this eco-friendly policy. Supporting restaurants and companies that are doing things right flexes your power as a consumer to make a difference. You can also help the city by letting them know if you come across a restaurant using Styrofoam.

How is everyday activism effective?

Some of the most heroic deeds of activism come in the most commonplace shapes and sizes. Confronting the way we do things each day makes such a big difference because the changes we make are multiplied over time: just two fewer disposable items used each day turns into over 50,000 items during a lifetime. When we regularly make decisions that take into consideration the well-being of the environment and other people (such as walking or bicycling to the store or supporting local or fair trade farmers), our friends and family take notice. Leading by example is a sure way to inspire those around us to take action as well.

And congratulate yourself on the changes you make, no matter how small. When it comes to doing what's right, there is no effort too small.

Copyright Lighter Footstep 2007

Everyday activism: Dining without disposables
How to steer clear of the Styrofoam and plastic stuff.