When I grew up in the 80’s, I knew all of my friend’s grandparents by their name. Jake’s was Oma and Opa, Chris had a Nona, and mine were Baba and Dido. We all lived in the same neighborhood, and during our summers, we all hung out at each others grandparent’s while our parents worked. It was a simpler time although we could be locked in the basement for hours at a time playing the latest Atari games (sound familiar?).

My Grandfather worked while my Grandmother stayed home. He would carry a lunch box with everything he needed, including a thermos for coffee. While I am sure there were coffee trucks and donut shops for breakfast and lunch, he preferred a packed lunch and all of the containers would come home at the end of the day empty.

In their backyard, and in most backyards, there were wonderful gardens. I remember them fondly. Cherries, raspberries, strawberries, peaches, fresh green onions, braids of harvested garlic and the best tomatoes you will never find at the store then or now. As I reflect back on these memories, I also remember all the different ways they conserved.

Hockey sticks became tomato stakes, a wooden crate with a window pane on top was for grass clippings, and pails at the end of roof drains collected water for all the flowers around their home. And during the winter months, we enjoyed their garden with pickles, preserved peaches, cherries, plums, and raspberry and strawberry jam, with our only requirement to return the jars and rings for another season.

Suppertime was spent at their kitchen table, which was a cleverly concealed piece of used plywood with crafted table legs with a traditional checkered table cloth.

My grandparents weren’t any more industrious than their neighbors or my friend’s grandparents. They had come from a period of scarcity, survived a world war and knew the difference between “need” and “want”. Over time, we learned as kids that we really only wanted what we needed. I was astonished when I first saw my grandparent’s kitchen table revealed for what it was. To some, a piece of old plywood, but for them a place to eat with their family. Want and need merged together by a piece of plywood my grandfather found on his way home from work one day and a one-dollar table cloth that welcomed you everyday.

Through the passage of time in peace, scarcity has become abundance and with this transition, the wealth of an entire population has grown exponentially. As we have gained so much in material wealth, and are spoiled with unlimited choice our focus has been drawn away from lesser known, yet none the less important details. Conspicuous consumption is evident every time there is a line up at our favorite coffee chain. The lesser known details are what happens to the disposable containers. I can spare you the details. It’s not good for you, the environment or society at large.

Embedded into our consumer culture is the wrapper, throw away cup, and box with loose or molded fill to protect what is inside. The packaging is a visual guarantee from the outside of what you can anticipate inside to be true. And indeed, the products inside the packaging is what we want, yet we are

trained to spot the logo, icon, and proprietary imagery to entice our brain to select what we want. Our society’s impulses run on symbolism.

“Capitalism is cooperation among strangers” is a small pearl of wisdom I have heard in recent times and was reminded of it when reviewing significant pushes for advancement in recycling onto the global collective on OpenIDEO. If you have never seen this website,  Openideo.com approach is where problems get solved using a many-hands approach. While there are several challenges posted, I will be responding shortly to this one: Openideo Challenge

The Challenge Sponsors are some of the planet’s largest take out brands asking for ideas and solutions on creating a take-out cup system that far exceeds today’s pattern of Take, Make and Dispose. I am personally optimistic that these problems will be solved with a transformative partnership between restaurants and their patrons. However, for this challenge, I will reach back to my past and ask my grandparents for their idea on a solution.

Reusable Containers.

Worked for them and can work for us.

Branded messaging intact. Leave behind, take them home, bring them back, replace when broken. Messaging to motivate, collectable and 100 % reusable and recyclable.