Bring your own containers for drinks, food
By Jessica Laskey
You probably know the environmental three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Recycling is most familiar, but reducing has the biggest impact. Alex Aruj is determined to help Sacramentans learn how.
“I watched the documentary ‘The Story of Plastic’ and I was shocked and outraged at the environmental degradation going on through the lens of the plastic waste crisis,” says Aruj, a former Bay Area resident who moved to East Sacramento in 2020.
“(My group) Sacramento Reduces was inspired by a neighborhood initiative in Toronto, Canada, called Roncy Reduces that started because they were sick of seeing plastic waste in the streets. I figured that Sacramento was the perfect place to try it out.”
Through Sacramento Reduces, Aruj encourages local businesses to allow customers to bring in their own containers for to-go orders, leftovers and beverages to reduce single-use plastics. Safety parameters were established by Assembly Bill 619, passed in 2019 that allows reusable food containers to be refilled by a food facility or consumer.
“There are no truly disposable containers,” Aruj says. “We think they’re compostable, but your paper coffee cup is lined with plastic, which is not what (compost) processors want. It’s hard to know what really is the sustainable choice.”
The foundation for Aruj’s environmental work was set during a high school science class in the Santa Monica Mountains. Though his jobs haven’t been strictly related to nature—he started his career in translation and switched to technical writing and program management, eventually working for SalesForce—his volunteerism has always been environmentally based.
“SalesForce had a volunteer quota for all employees, which opened my eyes to the opportunity,” Aruj says. “I worked with a group called Earth Force, which introduced me to ‘The Story of Plastic.’ But my coolest volunteer opportunity was going to New Mexico to help the group Veterans Off-Grid build a hoop house to grow their own vegetables and plants. It was a mashup of giving back to the veteran community and providing them with resources on their own land.”
When Aruj moved to Sacramento at the start of the pandemic, he got involved with 350 Sacramento, a grassroots group inspired by national climate action organization 350.org that educates people on how we can bring our atmospheric carbon dioxide levels below 350 parts per million, the number scientists say is the safe upper limit to avoid “runaway climate change.”
“Being new to Sacramento, this was a good way to plug in to what’s going on locally. It connected me with lots of different people in Sacramento,” Aruj says.
A year later, Aruj decided to take matters into his own hands. He started the “BYO” sticker campaign by printing stickers based on a Roncy Reduces template and visiting local businesses to discuss allowing customers to bring their own containers.
“One of the dear 350 Sacramento members got written clarification from Sacramento County on reuse, which gave momentum and a clear path forward for Sacramento Reduces,” Aruj says. “Many businesses were excited to get onboard. (We surveyed) businesses in Old Sac with (sustainable innovation space) Atrium 916 … and we learned the costs can easily be several hundred dollars a week on disposables.”
While participation was substantial—you can see participating businesses on the Sacramento Reduces website—Aruj decided to pull back and focus on his education.
He completed a 10-week fellowship with climate career accelerator Climatebase. He took an online course on the sustainability of social ecological systems, which he says was “a cold bucket of water. It pokes holes in the initiatives trying to reduce one thing and shows how important energy, water and food sources are to the overall sustainability of any system.”
Undeterred by the challenges, Aruj is intent on helping “bring tools closer to people working on reducing our environmental impact.” One BYO container at a time.
For information, visit sacramentoreduces.org or @sacramentoreduces on Instagram and 350sacramento.org.
Jessica Laskey can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @insidesacramento.