Just Say 'No' To To-Go

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


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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  1. I am a realtor, having sell a house since six month ago. the marke is getting worse. My brotherr, who is in the construction fild got umemployee, so sinced we are not having a income, we would love to start a recycle businees. Would you please send me information that would help us finish building our business?

    Daysi Briones
    IQBriones C. Services

  2. Bring your own containers for leftovers! Tupperware makes a great line called Flat Outs… they are expandable containers the close down to about an inch thick. My parents have several sets that they bring on their frequent dining out excursions and always pack their leftovers in their own containers. Not only are they staying away from disposables, but they don’t end up with spilled food in the car or dried out food in the fridge!

  3. When I was a child, I believed all these things, and thought people were evil and destroying the planet. Then I grew up, learned about asteroid impacts, mega-tsunami’s, and super volcanoes (one sits fuming beneath Yellowstone National Park), and I realized how pathetically insignificant we are.

    We can no more harm the Earth, or change the climate than we could shift its orbit. We can damage local environments, which prove remarkably resilient, but we’re not a threat to the planet, and it’s not in trouble. The planet has survived impacts with asteroids that wiped out millions of species, dozens of super volcano eruptions capable of covering North America in three feet of ash, and mega-tsunamis that have driven walls of water hundreds of feet high, and hundreds of miles long twenty miles inland…

    Do you really think refusing to drink your pop out of a straw matters to the Earth’s survivability?

  4. Flatearth, initially I was dumbfounded that anyone could believe something so absurd as to believe that we are doing nothing to harm Earth. So I thought on what you wrote for awhile. The thing is you may be correct, but only in the grandest extreme. Sure a million years from now the human race could be gone, wiped out by one of the amazing disasters you speak of, and after all that time the planet healed and showing no sign of human disturbance. However, I believe people are far more concerned about keeping the planet safe and inhabitable by humans. Sure, millions of years from now, after we wipe ourselves out, Earth will probably recover. I and many others are worried about what happens 50 years years from now when the population is still growing, we are still compiling trash and using resources as if there is no consequence, and CO2 levels are so high in our atmosphere that we wipe out half the species on this beautiful planet. Sure nature has created many mass extinctions but the human race will become the first organism to actually cause a mass extinction of its fellow living inhabitants.

  5. These are great tips! Nowadays lot of reusable container are available in the market with low cost ,instead visitors taking the container to the restaurant ,the restaurant itself can supply the container as a compliment for every dinning. This can even be a business tactic for the growth of business.Hope this idea works out well ?!

  6. Hello Fellow Recyclers! I am a single mother, college student and freelance graphic designer! Yes I have many plates to spin! I am working on a children’s book to teach kids about recycling!! If there are any foundations that offer grants or loans I would love to meet! Thanks!

  7. We need public advertising to make taking your own containers for leftover to the restaurant okay. My husband and I both keep clean plastic containers in our cars. When we go into a restaurant, we take them in with us. Most of our friends are embarrassed when we do this. We now carry them in a tote bag so it isn’t obvious what we have with us. If it is socially okay or expected, then more people would do it. Let’s make it socially responsible to use your own take-home container. Advertising is the way to do this.

    Since all the info has been out about plastic bottles, I see 60% fewer throw-away bottles. How can I tell it’s 60%? We belong to a gym and those exercising put their bottles on a ledge right next to the aisle. When we walk past the ledge we can see the bottles lined up. It used to be all disposable plastic. Now six out of 10 are reusable bottles. 60%. Please
    What a great idea this site is! Wish more people knew about it. I came to this site through my company web site. I work for Boeing.

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