Less Plastic Challenge Day 8: Food To Go, Waste Free

It's August 10th, 2014. I'm really tired. I just worked all day. It's hot outside. Cooking is out of the question. I go buy a burrito at the Taqueria. They hand me my food in a plastic bag. I open the bag to find a plastic fork, knife, and a small plastic container filled with salsa. They've given me 15 napkins. The burrito is wrapped in foil and the chips are in a small bag. I order a drink which comes in a plastic lined cup with a plastic lid and straw. I'm so hungry that I inhale the burrito in less than 5 minutes, and I'm left with a heaping pile of trash. I throw it away and don't even think about where the trash will end up. That's a lot of plastic waste for one person's meal! This was my takeout experience before I started living a Circular Lifestyle. Today I'm going to share how it's possible to go out to dinner, get takeout or see a movie, without generating any unnecessary trash. 

Sit Down Restaurants:

If I go out to dinner at a sit-down restaurant, sometimes I have leftovers or bits of food like an orange rind, that if I don't bring home with me, will get thrown in the trash (only a couple restaurants on my side of town compost). I always bring a glass container with me to carry leftovers or compost home in. I've gotten a wide range of looks (both smiles and the stink eye) when filling my own container with leftovers. I like it! It gives people a minute to think, "Why is she doing that?" I'm not interested in telling people how to live their lives, but if anyone is inspired by seeing me use a container instead of a plastic or paper to-go box, that's great! When people (mainly waitresses and waiters) approach me and ask what I'm doing, of course I explain. 

My Guidelines For Takeout:

When my sweetheart and I opt for takeout, our options are mainly fast food pizza, burgers (veggie for me), nachos, and burritos. My favorite takeout food is an organic salad and tofu breakfast burrito from an all vegetarian restaurant a few blocks away --that's kind of healthy, right?

  1. When I go for takeout, I ask if they can put the food directly into my glass container. I also find that glass containers are the easiest to keep clean. On this note-- It's super important that our to-go ware is sparkly clean to keep the restaurants open to offering this service. It would only take one person to bring in a dirty container and blow the no waste opportunity for everyone.  
  2. I find it helpful to give a small and non-judgemetnal explanation of why I want to use my own container, like "Hi, would you mind putting my order into this container? I don't make trash, so that would help me out a lot. Thanks!" This let's the person serving me understand my intentions as well as follow through on any further requests I might have (like please no paper around my veggie burger). 
  • For pizza: We bring our own plates from home and ask that the slice be put right onto the plates!
  • For burritos: We bring in our glass containers and a small cloth bag for chips and politely ask for no plastic wrap, foil, napkins, or plastic silverware. They put the burrito right into our containers!
  • For nachos: We bring in our own glass containers and request no plastic forks, because they are sometimes automatically given. 
  • For burgers: We bring in our own glass containers and politely ask them to hold the paper, foil, or plastic wrap of any kind. 
  • For Chinese food: This is slightly tricky. We can't just hand over our container, which means if we want takeout we have be seated at the restaurant, order in, and then when the food arrives, transfer all of it into our own containers. I really don't like doing this, as making extra dishes wastes water, but once in a while it happens! Hot and sour soup--yum!

3. If I'm traveling and go to a new restaurant or cafe, I just politely ask if they would be willing to put my order in my container. If they can't, then I might order it eat-in style and pack it up, or just go somewhere else.

My dad is the coolest!--popcorn and root beer trash free!

My dad is the coolest!--popcorn and root beer trash free!

The Movies:

 Popcorn and drinks are packaged in plastic or in plastic lined materials that are designed to be used once before heading to the landfill for eternity. We can avoid this waste!

  • We can bring our own cloth drawstring bag for popcorn. I say, "Would you mind putting popcorn in my bag? I've done it before." When they say yes, I thank them for helping me not make trash.  
  • After you've asked for popcorn, they know your deal, so putting a soda in your own jar is no sweat. Some movie theaters might not allow glass --bring a metal canteen instead of a mason jar to solve this problem.

A no waste take-out faux pas: Prepared foods, like a salad bar, hot bar, or soup bar in a grocery store are not a place where you can use your own container. Trust me, I work in a grocery store. Using your own container is a total breach of health code laws, as some serious cross contamination could take place between your plate and the serving utensils, and thus all the food on the bar. If the establishment doesn't provide you with in- house eating ware, then you simply can't eat from their hot/salad/soup bar using your own container. 

To sum up, be brave and stick up for yourself and the planet by not being afraid to ask basic questions like, "Would you mind putting that in my container?" This small request can help create a new culture that isn't focused on single-use and disposability.