Americans toss out enough plastic forks, knives, and spoons each year to circle the equator 300 times. One Styrofoam food container takes more than a million years to decompose in the landfill. Natural Solutions talks to Stephanie Bernstein (above), the founder of To-Go Ware and this month’s cover girl, about how she is changing the American disposable lifestyle one bamboo fork at a time.
NS: Describe your aha moment.
SB: I was ordering ice cream one day, and the server asked me, “For here or to go?” I’d heard the question 100 times before, but this time it really made me pause. When I ordered it “to go,” I not only got ice cream, but a plastic spoon, Styrofoam bowl, and a plastic-lined doggie bag. I thought about how many times a week I used throwaway products and realized I had bought in to the American fast-paced, on-the-go attitude.
NS: So what was your solution?
SB: In my mind, it was so simple and obvious: reusable, nonplastic utensils and metal containers. I knew they needed to be durable, dishwasher-safe, and antibacterial. So I settled on cutlery made of bamboo (pesticide-free, sustainably harvested) and two- or three-tiered stainless-steel food carriers, modeled after the tiffin lunch boxes in India. And To-Go Ware was born.
NS: You say To-Go Ware sources materials ethically.
What does that mean?
SB: We try to give back rather than take away, whenever possible. A women’s cooperative in China, for example, makes our utensils, which come wrapped in a cotton holder produced by another women’s co-op that employs refugees living in a camp on the Thai-Burma border. We also buy covers created from recycled plastic bags collected by people living in the slums of New Delhi. While number crunching the other day, I realized that if it takes 80 to 100 plastic bags to make a yard of material and we are selling tens of thousands of these products, that means we are reclaiming 1 million plastic bags from the trash each year.
NS: It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by the Earth’s
problems. How would you advise people to get
involved and make a difference?
SB: You don’t have to install solar panels or buy a more environmentally friendly car—it’s the little things that matter most. Turn off the lights, and shorten your shower two minutes. Avoid taking home leftovers in foam containers by bringing reusable containers to restaurants. Think about how many plastic spoons and forks you toss throughout the week after just three minutes of use. By keeping reusable utensils in your purse, you can save hundreds of plastic cutlery from the landfill a year. That’s huge!