Eric and I chaperoned the high school homecoming dance on Saturday, and I went from having no idea what I was going to write about today to having it all become crystal clear in a matter of hours.
Eric and I are both introverts, so when we were asked, we said yes, but only if we could work together and if we had an actual job. We got assigned the punch table, and the school staff kept alternating between thanking us and apologizing because apparently that’s a job no one usually wants.
It’s interesting being an aspiring zero waster in a world that really just isn’t. There’s a throw-away culture that’s generally obvious (oh look, another disposable coffee cup), but it’s events like these that make me realize just how far we collectively have to go to overcome that mindset of “toss and forget.”
The punch table was covered with a plastic tablecloth. There were two glass punchbowls and stainless steel ladles (nice touch) and three reusable plastic serving trays. Paper napkins. Confetti everywhere.
Countless boxes of 2-liter soda bottles for “punch” and a dozen boxes of cookies. Hundreds of paper cups.
The Dollar Store is awesome!, said the senior class advisor as we surveyed the scene.
We got to work, setting out cookies on platters (I had to wear plastic gloves to handle the food) and making punch (no gloves required, weird). My first thought was to wear the same pair of gloves all night, but they were hot and gross. Do you think I can just reuse the same ones?, I asked Eric, and he was like, do it.
So I did. But it was a small victory compared to what came next.
Which was simply that kids would come and grab punch and cookies (not a lot of napkins were used, I noticed) and then come back for new cups of punch and more cookies. I think. We were so busy that I didn’t pay attention. Fun fact: We were supposed to be on guard against any potential punch spiking, so we solved THAT little issue by serving it ourselves. But since it flew off the table as fast as we could pour it — I was actually just handing it to kids at several points — that was the least of our worries.
We ran out of cups with an hour to go. Eric had to find us more. Out of all of those cups and all of those kids, I had only one ask if I would refill his cup or if he had to take a new one. I was like, I will TOTALLY refill your cup!, and then I had another kid hand me his too, so I had a grand total of two requests.
We were wiped out of cookies and punch with 15 minutes to go, so we started cleaning up. I knew it was going to be bad but had been distracted by the sheer volume of kids lining up at our table. Eric went around collecting the empty and half-filled cups of punch littering the place, and I tried to sort out the rest. The pop bottles were easy — in Oregon they have a 5¢ refund, but apparently the science class uses them to make rockets, so … we’ll hope the bottles don’t get destroyed in the process and eventually returned, but that’s kind of out of my hands. They got loaded up to take to the science department. Next the punch bowls and ladles went back to the kitchen. The rest of it was unceremoniously dumped.
Oh, my heart.
It’s easy to get all high and mighty at these events: I would have gone to the rental center for reusable cups! We could have gotten kegs of pop instead of making punch! Surely someone has a sheet or something we could have used as a tablecloth, and since no one used the paper napkins anyway, that could have been avoided all together! The lunch staff could wash everything for us Monday and then I’d have returned all that to the rental place!
The reality: You’d need collection points for the cups and then would have to count to make sure they were all there. And probably have brooms handy for the inevitable breakage. The lunch staff is already too busy as it is, and an extra load of a thousand cups would probably not be welcome. Kids are planning these events on limited school budgets and are trying to go cheap and easy.
So I don’t know where that leaves us. I can see reusables for a wedding or reception (and I’ll get to test my theory this June when we’re planning Abby’s grad party). But for a function with over a thousand people? Maybe I just lack imagination.
Bonus story: Before the dance, we hit our favorite pizza place for a slice to sustain us for our work ahead. I chose Canadian bacon and pineapple and Eric got the pepperoni right next to it, because even our pizza is in love. Anyway, the kid behind the counter was like, let me get you a box, and Eric was like, nah, we’ll just take it on that paper slip, and she was kind of horrified, but just because we might burn ourselves. The box is small! she said, and Eric was like, nope, we’re good. And then he gave me a look that just made me laugh — he was so proud of himself. We’re going to be the coolest kids on the block, walking around with our pizza slices, I told him, and he was like, just doing our part.
I love it when I’m not the only crazy one. P.S. Our last trash collection: Less than one bag of garbage and less than one bin of recycling for two weeks. Yay!
Next up: My six-month anniversary of the project is Oct. 15, and I’ve got a lot of sorting and updating to do. (And wow, that came fast.)