I mentioned in the last post that I took two trips in August and learned much about trash. Well, the trip to New Orleans was really something. I love the romance of the French Quarter: the architecture, music, art, and of course food. I’ve been there half a dozen times or so now and each time I find something new that I love about this place. This time though was different. Maybe I was different. The city that has been through so much and keeps going, the city of hope gives me hope.A small group of us stayed over a holiday weekend at this wonderful little boutique hotel on a block between Bourbon And Royal. The hospitality at the hotel was like no other and we loved it! I found myself looking for ways to recycle and reduce trash consumption as I had all over New Mexico. My sister and one of my friends jumped right in with me.We lucked out with breakfast served daily at the hotel on dishes with linen napkins. I had a place to fill my coffee cup but not a place for water. The hotel staff was quite confused that I didn’t want bottled water to pour into my cup or to just take the plastic bottles. They only set out fruit-infused water in a pitcher in the lobby later in the day but that was wonderful! The coffee shops let us use our cups and most of the restaurants served us on dishes. The problem was really the bars with plastic cups galore. So much trash and no place to recycle.I came home and did a little research. It turns out New Orleans has a recycling program for residents but hotels, restaurants, and bars in the Quarter are responsible for trash and recycling through a private company. This makes much more sense after walking around and seeing the giant trash cans at several places. The bars serve in plastic cups or souvenir-style containers. It is cheaper and easy to just toss all of it. People seem to act a fool here like no other and the staff doesn’t have time to add on responsibilities.A local bartender told me that people do things in New Orleans that they would never do in their own home or town including throwing trash on the ground and leaving disgusting messes for people to clean, all under the guise of being on vacation. After she said this, I started watching people as I walked down Bourbon and zigzagged the other streets. Bourbon seems to have the most bars, the youngest tourists, and the most trash and vomit on the streets.One block over on Royal is full of art galleries, coffee, government buildings, and the police department. It is cleaner and more quiet except during parade time. Jackson Square all the way over to Cafe Du Monde and down to the Markets is full of life and shopping but not a lot of craziness. Restaurants tucked away along the side streets were in most cases quaint and cozy with no litter.The crowds and trash are dependent upon the celebration du jour. The sanitation department rolls out early and hoses down the filth for the tourists to party again. Trash is stacked high with a stench from the night before that will rot as the sun comes up only as it can in the humid heat of Louisiana. They work hard to start each day fresh. I have thought about this a lot since I returned home.New Orleans is a place that welcomes everyone and isn’t going to turn away tourism because of the revenue it generates. The local residents care about the city and clearly participate in the recycling program available; options to increase the size of the containers are even available.Not all tourists are there to binge-drink and be a mess. Many are there to experience the culture and would gladly participate in recycling and waste reduction. The key is to make it simple and a way of life.Tourists need a place to recycle along the main streets and around Jackson Square. Some may not even realize how much trash they’re reducing by sitting down at the wonderful restaurants. Companies save money every time a customer brings a mug from home and the result – one fewer drink cup ends up in the dump each time. We should celebrate small victories and appreciate the talented street artists and overall culture of such an historic place while sipping from our reusable cups.
The last few months have been focused on eliminating waste in my life. I cannot believe how incredibly hard it is to reduce waste during travel if you don’t either plan ahead or basically change the way you think in general.
Two stateside trips in the month of August were eye-opening about how far we have come and how much further we desperately need to improve! I’ll tell you about the first trip now and the second in another post so you don’t have to spend your entire day reading!My family agreed to meet me for a ridiculous and fun-filled family adventure in a rental zig-zagging across as much of New Mexico as we could possibly pack into a few short days. Unbeknownst to the good spirited travelers, I was on a quest to use all of the items I packed in my carry-on to avoid trash. This included: a metal silverware set in a tiny zipper case, metal straw, and reusable coffee mug with its cardboard sleeve. I also carried a backpack with a smaller daypack to avoid using plastic bags.I set off for the airport and made it as far as TSA. It turns out I should not have packed a yogurt for breakfast. It was over the three ounce liquid rule so they dumped it into the trash. I was mystified that they allowed my metal silverware set through that contained a knife and set of chopsticks but would not allow a yogurt I planned to eat for breakfast. I found out later my knife was contraband but both airports let me bring it through . . .I made a mental note to tell everyone about this later and marched on to Dunkin Donuts where they filled the reusable cup I purchased from a major competitor. I sat on the airplane and sipped coffee from this mug, skipped breakfast because I was still pouting about the yogurt, and sadly watched all of the other passengers drink from the free airplane cups. The little plastic cups stuffed with paper napkins and miscellaneous trash fell into the flight attendant’s plastic trash bags again and again.I arrived in Albuquerque and waited for the family to arrive. The very kind woman at the hotel did not understand why I wanted to use a water fountain when she had complimentary bottled water for me. I did not realize at the time but this is a very common conversation everywhere.The family traveled like the Bernstein Bears by car, Dad as the driver with me as the navigator and Mom and sister in back. The sister tried repeatedly and mostly unsuccessfully to block the glaring summer sun with one of the seemingly million maps my parents collected throughout the trip. At one point Dad was driving at least 75 mph when they decided the sister should roll down the window and try to fold the map while he rolled up the window as fast as possible. That was truly the most entertaining thing that happened in the car.I was hopeful we could use the maps on the phones and not create a need to recycle but phone service was spotty and Mom actually collects maps. She tried hard to maintain her neatness by using a trash bag in the car. My sister brought along a solar powered cell phone charger for the trip which was one of several environmentally positive things she did.The reusable cup was a major success! We ate breakfast at a different hotel every morning; I used the same cup all day for coffee and water. The gas stations and fast food places allowed me to fill water for free wherever we went. Most of the time it went very smoothly. The bigger National Parks have water fountains so we made excellent use of those opportunities as often as possible. Twice I ordered a drink and used my own cup; neither place charged me.The utensils were a huge breakthrough habit! I used my utensils at breakfast every morning in lieu of the plasticware provided. I went back to the room and grabbed them when I forgot them. Depending on the location within the same chain of hotels, either styrofoam or paper plates were the only options for food service. The metal straw came in handy when we stopped at a restaurant with table service and washable dishes.The reusable bag was an interesting dilemma. I didn’t bring a bag big enough for a blanket I purchased in Santa Fe and didn’t think to carry it without a bag. The reusable bag my sister brought was also too small. I ended up taking the plastic bag and filling it with all of the purchases. Mom used it as the trash bag in the car but ultimately it went into the trash when we left.I celebrated the fact that I saved at least 15 cups, six sets of plastic utensils, and made choices that reduced the overall amount of trash I created. Other than the National Parks, I found no place to recycle items. This disappointing fact made me happy to have reduced my personal amount of trash. The trip left me to consider what more to do, especially since I’d be going on another trip a week later.