Let’s look at some practical ways to reduce waste when you go out to eat.
So far in this Zero Waste Home series, I’ve discussed grocery shopping and cooking. But I’m a city girl at heart who feels a strong draw to explore my bigger home: San Francisco. That’s why I’ve worked to bring my zero-waste habits to the restaurants, cozy cafes and easy, family-style pizza parties I often frequent. Check out my tips below — they’re a great way to reduce waste and help local businesses save money.
1. Ask for a mug and a plate.
Before I started these efforts, I didn’t know Starbucks offered anything else besides the ubiquitous to-go cup. But they do!
In fact, most coffee shops have mugs and plates for customers who plan to enjoy their beverages and food there. For someone who does most of my work at coffee shops, this realization has given me an easy way to reduce waste every day. All I have to do is ask when I place my order and most coffee shops are happy to oblige.
2. Bring to-go containers.
Of course, if you plan to enjoy your coffee or tea on the go, you should bring your own thermos. This tip — along with the tip to bring your own reusable water bottle — shouldn’t be news for anyone reading this article.
But what about to-go containers for food? Restaurants are often provide generous portions (or maybe I’m too ambitious with my ordering). Typically, there’s food on my plate that’s too good to throw-away. Going zero-waste also means reducing wasted food and its impact on people and the environment. Bringing my own box to restaurants helps me cut down on waste and take home some yummy leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.
But don’t limit the practice to taking home food from restaurants. When it comes to bringing your own to-go containers, it helps to think outside the box. If you buy prepared food (i.e. salads, vegetables, roasted chicken) at the grocery store, ask the person behind the counter to put your meal in the container you brought. Instead of buying new jars of spaghetti sauce, take a to-go container to your favorite Italian restaurant or deli and ask to buy some of their delicious sauce.
Think of how much waste your trusty to-go container can cut. I’ve received nothing but positive responses from waiters, grocery store employees, shops and even other customers when I explain what I’m doing.
3. Bring your own straw.
People are often surprised when I order my drink and specify, no straw. One waitress even asked me how I planned to drink my lemonade without a straw. (Ummm…) Perhaps they don’t know how much straws suck for the environment.
According to the Surfrider Foundation approximately 500 million plastic straws are used every day in the United States. That’s enough waste to fill more than 127 school buses each day. Unfortunately, these straws are filling up our landfills, beaches and oceans. If you doubt their impact and feel especially brave, look what a straw did to this sea turtle.
Although San Francisco is ahead of the curve when it comes to curbing most waste, too many restaurants, cafes and bars in the city still use unnecessary straws. (Question: why get a margarita with a salted rim AND a straw?) For the rare times straws do make sense — milkshakes, iced coffee, drinking out of a coconut — I have my trusty re-usable straw ready in my purse.
The hardest part is getting into the habit of telling people you want your drink with no straw. When you only want water to drink, it’s easy to assume it will arrive straw free. But no. It probably won’t.
4. Take it one step further.
I know folks who also bring their own reusable napkins and cutlery. I don’t worry about this in San Francisco because restaurants compost their paper napkins and it’s really rare to be served disposable cutlery. When I’m traveling this summer though, I will probably add these items to my “going out” kit.
Have more tips to bring a zero waste home to eating out? I’d love to hear them in the comments section!
A version of this article originally ran at Sustainablog. Republished here with permission.