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5 ways i avoid foodware waste

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!

no more bottled water

PLEASE NOTE: This post was written for a different blog in 2014. This is an issue I still care deeply about and the problem has only gotten worse in the past 5 years. I did, indeed, change our bottled water consumption when traveling. We now use a SteriPen to sterilize water when unsure of it’s safety.

^^costa rica sunset, february 2014^^

I'm a rule follower. When someone of authority tells me to do something, I do it. And when I break rules or recommendations, I do so only with intense anxiousness. Before we left for Costa Rica, I called my doctor's travel clinic to talk about our trip. We had all the necessary vaccinations, but the lady I spoke with emphasized that we should not drink the tap water there. I asked a few follow up questions, because what I'd read had made me think the tap water was safe in Costa Rica, but this woman insisted there were serious health risks.

I hate buying water. I hate creating unnecessary waste. Both of these principles are hard to stick to when you're traveling in a place without potable water. I've spent a good deal of time in China, and it's actually not hard there, because boiled water is readily available. When I studied abroad in Harbin in 2003, I'd fill my Nalgene with boiled water and stick it out on the windowsill to cool off. Sure, bottled water was cheap. But think of all the people in China. If they're all drinking water from bottles, imagine how many plastic bottles that is. Where do they all go?

^^woman sweeping up trash at the forbidden city in beijing. taken by my mom when visiting me in december 2003.^^

But back to Costa Rica. While there, we bought bottled water. 6L jugs of it usually, so only 4 or 5 were needed to get us through the 10 days. But still, those bottles made my heart hurt. Especially when an expat in line at the supermarket lectured me about how Costa Rica's drinking water was totally safe. I know, lady, you're preaching to the choir. But I didn't want to risk it with Willa, and getting sick was not in our vacation plans. I didn't want to go against what my doctor had advised.

^^selvatura park. monteverde, costa rica. february 2014.^^

But during our trip, I vowed I'd do something different the next time. Once home, I went through my bookmarks and favorited tweets, and found two fantastic organizations I'd previously heard about: Ban the Bottle, and Travelers Against Plastic. I've been following Ban the Bottle for a few years since I support their mission of: "eliminating plastic bottles in schools, offices and public areas...[so] we can eliminate unneeded waste in landfills." Travelers Against Plastic has a different, but potentially even more important slant. Their mission is to "educate global travelers about the harmful impacts of plastic water bottles usage and encourage travelers to be prepared to clean their own drinking water."

^^GUILTY! penang, malaysia. july 2011.^^

On their resources page, they recommend a few methods: a SteriPEN, which is likely familiar to those who go camping, as well as old fashioned iodine tablets. We used to use those when I went to summer camp, and the water always had an odd taste. But apparently they're more advanced now and you can get neutralizing tablets which eliminate it.

As someone who cares a lot about these types of issues, I am mad at myself for not thinking more about this before our trip. It would have been so easy to buy a $50 SteriPEN or pack a few iodine tablets which are even cheaper! But even I didn't think of it. The only way to make change is to educate people. I'm glad I've been thinking about it lately. I hope you, too, will think twice before buying a bottle of water?

products, travelMelissa Colonno