by Denia McCobb

As I sip on my Starbucks Grande Bold and nibble on my egg white

spinach wrap, a practice I indulge in at least once or twice a week, I wonder: is this cup recyclable? I know Starbucks brags about using recyclable materials to create their cups, but if its ultimate stop is a landfill, doesn’t that still constitute waste? How about the paper bag my food came in; the napkin I use; the package they took the veggie wrap out of to microwave it, and ultimately place in another package? With this bi-weekly habit, I am annually responsible for 104 cups, lids, cup sleeves, stirrers; 208 takeout packages; and at least 200 napkins in our landfill. And that’s just me—one person—accounting for only 2 of the meals I eat each week.

Starbucks serves more than 4 million customers a week at over 2,800 locations locations in the United States. That’s approximately 600,000 disposable cups used daily in the US alone. In 2010, there were 8,200,000 cups sold per day worldwide. This doesn’t include other coffee houses or retailers, like Dunkin Donuts, Bagel shops, and McDonalds. And we’re just talking coffee. How about food waste and take-out containers, utensils, ketchup packages and napkins?

According to, 58 million people are served at McDonalds daily. That’s 671 people per second of every day taking out or sitting down with single-use hamburger wrappers, fries’ cartons, disposable cups, straws, straw wrappers, napkins, takeout bags, tray sheets, and ketchup packets. It’s no surprise the average American produces 1,600 pounds of trash annually with the majority of that consisting of food packaging and food waste. That does not include the 1500 miles food travels before arriving from a farm to our plate (or takeout tray), which of course is a major contributor to carbon dioxide pollution. Meat-eating is responsible for more greenhouse gases than anything else, including transportation.

Photo by Jacqueline Romano

But in this fast-paced, busy society, is it possible to have a great life without so much waste? Is it possible to change – not necessarily using as little as we can, but finding sustainable alternatives to getting what we need (or think we need)? I believe we can! I believe we need to take the stand and do what we can rather than wait for big business or congress to pave the way.

Colin Beavan, a New York writer, aka the No Impact Man, had this very thought. In 2008, he and his family set out on a year-long quest to live a life with no net impact on the environment. He documented every step in the hope that those who watched his documentary titled, “No Impact Man,” could follow his example.

Photo by Jacqueline Romano

His wife, Michelle Conlin is a writer for a popular New York magazine, was a self-proclaimed takeout junkie, shopaholic, reality TV-gazer, Starbucks-buzzed, central A/C-using, meat consumer. So, joining her husband on this experiment was no easy task for her. She would have to give up shopping for anything new of any kind, including her daily three cups of Starbucks, diapers, paper goods – including newspapers; refuse electricity; and make every effort to avoid any chemical cleaning solutions that pollute our water. She and her husband avoided driving, flying, elevators, subways, packaged products, bottled water,  meat, fish and non-local produce.

Needless to say, this year-long quest was quite the undertaking. They began by shopping only at local farmer’s markets for food; they rode bikes to get around and took the stairs instead of the elevator. Although they encountered trying times in their adjustment, the outcome was unexpected for them.

For starters, his wife’s pre-diabetic condition was reversed! They also spent more time together as a family, outdoors, kept the air conditioning and electricity off, which kept the television from luring them inside. They also discovered that without distractions, their days seemed to last longer, and I think that statement alone can inspire families to make a change.

Photo by Jacqueline Romano

Many now believe on our path to efficiency, we have missed out on living. It’s time we all take some deep breaths and learn how can we slow ourselves down and appreciate what is around us. High speed internet, faxing, emailing, texting, and “checking in” on Facebook is pulling away our attention? Our laptops are getting thinner, faster, and more efficient, but we are getting fatter, slower and more lethargic. We have to consider not only our carbon footprint, but the impact our habits have on ourselves and our children.

What kind of example are we setting for our children when we can’t  take them for a car ride without playing a movie for them or handing them our phone to play a game? What happened to counting red cars on the highway, singing songs, and playing “I Spy?”

Photo by Jacqueline Romano

So here’s the challenge. We all take a 30-day challenge to do what we  can, within reason, to live a conscious life; to get off the grid as much as possible; to put down the video games, shut down the computer, unplug our televisions, stop talking through texting and abandon the mall. And instead, let’s get outside and play, talk and share in the joy of each other!