I’m always a little dismayed when I show up to a big Girl Scout event put on by a service unit, association, or council, and there are stacks and stacks of disposable everything. Tiny water bottles, zip lock bags, disposable silverware, juice boxes with tiny straws and wrappers, and more. Shouldn’t we as Girl Scouts be leading the way for using resources wisely, instead of using every possible bit of disposable plastic available?
Before you get annoyed with me, I am not judging. I am not a perfect human. We all know that these items are more convenient. And we are VOLUNTEERS, for goodness sakes, there is really only so much we can be expected to tackle on any given event. Truth be told, if we set the bar *too* high for hosting events, no one will bother. For myself, I tackle this with an “All or something” approach. So you can’t have reusable EVERYTHING without going insane; ok, maybe there are some small steps or changes you can make to make your troop and other GS events be a little more resourceful. So here are some “All or something” ideas you can use!
- Ziplock bags. JGL knows I do not need to be telling Girl Scout leaders about reusing these things! I am 100% sure that I am one of many thousands of leaders who have stashes of lightly used zippie bags lurking in every Girl Scout related storage bin or box. Rock on, leaders! Keep doing that! This link has some ideas for using plastic bags you may not have thought of!
- Disposable water bottles: Just stop buying them. Include “Bring a reusable water bottle,” on EVERY invitation you send out, including to meetings. My girls know they are expected to have their reusable water bottle with them everywhere they go by now. If they don’t have them, check your local thrift shop; I’ve been able to find some great deals on reusable water bottles that way. Our meeting locations have always had a tap or water fountain girls can refill their bottles from. If we are hosting an event somewhere there isn’t easy access to water, I’ll bring a giant thermos with water for everyone to refill from. Short of investing in one of those, you can purchase the 2 gallon jugs of water pretty cheaply. I hate paying for water though; we live in an area where we are very lucky to have clean tap water to drink, and paying for water seems a true waste of resources on every level; money used to pay for what should be free, plus oil used to produce the plastic, plus oil used to transport the full jugs, etc.
- Juice boxes with tiny straws! These things drive me crazy! They are so easy, so cheap, so accessible that they are ubiquitous. They are EVERYWHERE. The straws and wrappers are so tiny that they are hard to even see once they blow away, much less pick them up. I’m not going to argue with anyone about plastic straws; if someone needs them, they should have access to them. However the vast majority of us don’t need them, and if we don’t, shouldn’t we TRY to reduce the number of non-recyclable plastics we use? (Pro tip: plastic straws are absolutely reusable if you wash them. I carry some in my purse all the time. I don’t think I could find a scrubber tiny enough to scrub the tiny juice box straws though. Maybe part of the answer is all of us choosing to reuse them sometimes instead of considering them 100% disposable? All or something!) (PS: for those people who *need* a plastic straw, if we put enough pressure on the industries who create them I have confidence they can create something better for the environment that meets those needs. But we have to push.) Anyways, my answer to juice boxes is to buy big jugs of juice and use reusable cups. OR, bring pitchers and drink mix so the girls can mix their own juice. These options are *both* messier in general that juice boxes. Worth it, IMO.
- Snacks! My girls are juniors and cadettes and we still do snacks. For one thing, they are growing and they are constantly ravenous. For another, some of them come from food insecure homes, so I always try to make sure there is plenty of food. For a final thing, if I ever want the girls to sit and listen: I ply them with food. So we always, always, have snack. Instead of single serving pouches (also not recyclable), I try to buy snacks in bigger boxes and give each girl a portion. Instead of paper plates we throw away, I try to use plastic cups that we reuse every meeting. I try. I don’t always manage it… but I do try. If I was really goal-oriented I’d make my own snacks but come on now, I do not have that kind of energy!
- Non-recyclable random things. I keep a bag full of all those little plastic bits and bobs I get via packaging, packing materials, little hangers they put socks on (why???), all kinds of those things, for the girls to use when we have engineering challenges or craft challenges or similar. They were very handy during our recent exploration of the engineering journey! However I have had to limit myself to ONE BAG of those items… it’s too easy to suddenly become a hoarder of this kind of thing. I really wish more plastics were recyclable in my area.
- Terra recycling programs. Finally, one thing I’m interested in trying but haven’t yet, are the Terracycle recycling programs. A lot of those programs involve recycling items that most local recycling programs do not, which is super cool. However purchasing and shipping the collecting containers is not cheap, so it’s something I’m considering for a future service project. It would be great to implement at the church where we meet!
Like I said, I am not here to judge. I am 100% a human who has to make concessions for various things at various times. Let’s just all do what we can, when we can, to make the world a better place.