This one easy tip will help you go green when eating out.
I’ve noticed quite a few restaurants in my city displaying posters that encourage patrons to take expanded polystyrene (EPS, better known as Styrofoam) take-out containers home with them because they are “now recyclable.” Hmm. When did they become recyclable? How are they recycled? These are reasonable questions, right?
About six months ago I was working on a project at a facility that generated a lot of EPS. We could not not find any vendors who would recycle it. We could barely find someone to take it. I finally found a business located in Fontana that would emulsify the material, then press it into a piece that would be part of picture frames. The owner realized that since there was an abundance of free material available, he could use it as a “filler material” for his products. This technically is reuse, and although it is better than tossing it in the trash, it is still only one step removed from the landfill. When the picture frames are discarded, they will not be recycled.
Unfortunately, over time, he stopped accepting our material because he had too much of it, causing the EPS to go back to the landfill.
I keep a zero waste toolkit in my car (more on that in an upcoming post) that includes a few reusable Tupperware-style containers. I now bring these containers in with me to restaurants, so that when I have leftovers, I have a sustainable way to bring the food home.
To-go containers drive me crazy. It really doesn’t matter to me if they are made from EPS, another plastic or paper, because they are used for an incredibly short time before being discarded. Oftentimes the food comes home in the to-go container, only to be transferred to a more reusable container to bring to work.
Say no to single use to-go containers! I will concede that it is in fact a bit of a pain to remember to bring a container or two into the restaurant, especially if I walked there, but it is worth to me to reduce the amount of material that I generate.
This scenario really got me thinking… If I can bring reusable containers into restaurants for my leftovers, then why not for takeout orders too?
Last week I ordered takeout Thai food to bring over to friends who recently had a baby and are mostly home. Instead of ordering the food in advance over the phone, I ordered it in person and asked them to use my own reusable containers. They were happy to oblige, and I was happy to leave the restaurant with four of my own containers filled with our lunch instead of four throwaway containers.
- You look cool (seriously, people stop me and say it’s a good idea)
- You reduce waste
- You get to serve food in glass instead of Styrofoam (who wants to eat out of EPS anyway?)
- You create awareness for plastic pollution with the people around you
- There are none, duh!
- Okay, maybe a few…your garbage can doesn’t fill up as quickly as it used to (wait, that’s a pro.)
- You have to lug around reusable containers, which can be a pain.
- You have to order in person, instead of ahead of time, which adds about 15 minutes in wait time.
Photo: Getty Images