I love food: Trying new foods. Going out to eat. Ordering Chinese.
But you know what I no longer love? Take out.
Since becoming more intentional about avoiding single-use packaging, going out and ordering food has become more stressful. When I don’t feel like cooking, the option of ordering take out is not a suggestion that puts me at ease. It does quite the opposite.
So, what to do? Here are five ways I avoid the terribleness that is single-use foodware:
I rarely order “take-out” or “to-go” food. This might initially sound like a bit of a downer, but honestly I feel alright about it. Food never tastes as good when you order it as it does in a restaurant. And all the new delivery services are expensive. Plus, take-out food isn’t usually the healthiest. When I’m feeling lazy about making dinner, we eat something super simple like a frittata, baked potato, rice bowl, pancakes or granola. Even if what I come up with isn’t healthy, at least it’s a lot cheaper than take out.
I order pizza. Yep, that’s our main source of delivery. Pizza. It comes in a box that is reusable (great for poster making!) or compostable (the greasy bottom part). Just make sure to ask for no condiment packets and NO “PIZZA SAVER” (that silly plastic table they put in the center of the pizza.
I BYO utensils and cups. I always have small metal cups and reusable utensils and straws in my bag. This way, if we go to a restaurant to dine in, but they’re using disposables (the worst!) then I can still minimize my waste. The cups come in handy for splitting beverages amongst the kids. Or at an event where they’re serving wine in a plastic cups! I have about 10 of them that I bought at H-Mart. Asian grocery stores are a great place to find stainless steel cups and plates.
I take a container everywhere. I always have a little bag, beeswax wrap, or container in my bag for food. If we eat out and there are leftovers, I slide them into my container. Never once have I gotten any negative comments or looks from a server or fellow diner. It works great; you can even take the extra bread! Health codes have provisions about restaurants touching your container. But they can put it on their plates and then YOU can put it in your container. So, even if you don’t want to dine in, you can still order “for here” and then just take it with you!
I usually use an old plastic container because it’s light. But my favorite are the Onyx stainless steel containers. If you can’t find them at a store near you, order (with free shipping!) from the Package Free Shop!
I tell restaurant workers and managers how I feel about single-use foodware. Last month, in California, Berkeley City Council unanimously passed a groundbreaking ordinance aimed at reducing the use of single-use disposable foodware. Restaurants are now required to use real plates and cups and utensils for customers dining in. For takeaway, containers must be compostable and come only at a 25 cent fee. And that’s not all! The city is working on implementing a program of reusable to-go containers with pick up and drop off locations around the city.
This is an example of how real change will happen. We need our systems to fundamentally change. I haven’t started pushing the Denver City Council yet (frankly, our city has a lot of other issues to address first that Berkeley probably addressed in the 1990s), but telling restaurants that I don’t like their single-use foodware is a good place to start. Just last weekend we went to a great local restaurant and our only complaint the whole meal was the plastic drink stirrer in a cocktail.
Demand what you want as a consumer!