Just Say 'No' To To-Go

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Perhaps it’s a frothy Frapuccino. Or spicy bean burritos. Don’t forget steaming pizzas with onions and olives. No matter your tastes, plenty of scrumptious snacks are regularly picked up at favorite eateries around the country and enjoyed at home.

While packaging is part of the deal with to-go orders, various restaurateurs and patrons are devising fresh approaches to make take-out more lean and green. Happily, some environmentally responsible techniques are delightfully simple. Other efforts to reduce waste take a bit more effort. But, if it’s kinder to the environment, each bite is going to be so much tastier.

Reusable to-go containers are easy to bring home & wash once you're done. - Usbox.com

Reusable to-go containers are easy to bring home & wash once you're done. - Usbox.com

Think About It

If you’re debating what to eat, try to select menu items that involve the least amount of disposable components. Perhaps a hearty sandwich would be just as satisfying as a multifaceted meal that requires elaborate packaging, a throng of plastic utensils and extra containers for sauces and condiments.

This approach works for snacks and desserts too. At the ice cream shop, ask for your scoops of rocky road in a cone, rather than in a disposable cup. Not only will you not have excess packaging, but you get to eat your “cup” too. Sweet.

Another point to consider is driving distance. When ordering take-out, choose restaurants that don’t require a long drive. Even better, order from restaurants in the neighborhood, then hop on a bicycle or take a stroll to pick them up.

Speak Out

Do you really need straws and plastic knives when you’re eating at home, with your own silverware handy? What about condiment packets (for relish, ketchup and the like) that you weren’t planning on using anyways?

Let restaurants know you’re interested in their environmental practices. Ask questions. Make suggestions. Tell the restaurant staff to skip all the stuff they routinely toss in that the customer tosses out. Remind them to leave out yet another paper menu – there are enough stuffed in the kitchen drawer. Perhaps they’ll be inspired to be more discriminating with others and ask before automatically including extras, or maybe they’ll consider using earth-friendly alternatives to what they’re using now.

Plenty of establishments are switching from traditional polystyrene and plastic containers to more eco-friendly packaging and utensils made with materials such as bamboo, potatoes and sugar cane. Some of these products are compostable. Other environmentally preferable packaging includes recycled paper products that are chlorine free.

Want to help inspire your favorite spot to use products like this? One way to do this is through printable suggestion cards available through the Green Restaurant Association (GRA). Print them out (on recycled paper!) and hand them to the manager, or stick them in the folder with your check.

Looking for a green restaurant in your area? You can also use the GRA to find restaurants that meet its environmental standards.

Bags like these help keep your food warm or cold & can be reused many times over. - Built NY

Bags like these help keep your food warm or cold & can be reused many times over. - Built NY

BYOB

Assign your reusable grocery store bags to double duty. Use them at restaurants to cart home leftovers and when picking up take-out orders. In addition to bags, add other items to the bring-your-own repertoire like coffee mugs. Starbucks, for example, offers a financial incentive (a 10-cent discount) for supplying your own. Coffee lovers apparently are taking advantage of that approach: according to a Starbucks spokeswoman, customers in 2007 supplied their own beverage mugs almost 20 million times.

Recommend Reusables

If you enjoy take-out regularly from specific places, ask those restaurant owners if they’d stock reusable to-go containers, such as glass or stainless steel. Tell them you’ll return the container when you’re back for another dinner. It’s sort of a library approach to packaging. You drop off the used containers and pick up fresh ones packed with food each time you go. The advantage to the restaurant is reduced costs on disposable packaging and loyalty of regular diners.

If the restaurant doesn’t like the idea of reusable containers, bring your own. Some eco-minded restaurant-goers tote around personal food storage containers to wrap up their leftovers and also use them for take-out items –  just make sure the restaurant agrees to use them.

No matter what your favorite take-out joint may offer, you can take these easy steps to maximize your eco-friendly efforts and minimize your footprint. Restaurants will appreciate your increased patronage, and you’ll feel good about taking your trash levels down a notch or two.

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Patti Roth

Patti began her writing career as a staff writer for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Still based in Florida, Patti serves as editor for Fort Lauderdale on the Cheap. She regularly writes about environmental, home improvement, education, recycling, art, architecture, wildlife, travel and pet topics.