The amount of waste generated in our society is out of control. One big source of waste is the containers that food and drinks get packaged in. Lisa Borden has started a campaign called Takeout Without that encourages people to say no to unnecessary packaging and to take their own reusables wherever possible.
Need to Focus on Reducing
Recycling is great and it is encouraging to see more take-out style restaurants switching to recyclable packaging and also offering recycling in their restaurants. However, recycling on its own isn’t going to solve the excess waste problems. In 2008, 249,610 tons of waste was generated in the municipal waste stream in the United States, compared with only 88,120 in 1960. Effectively, the amount of waste produced has almost tripled in the last 50 years despite the introduction of recycling programs during that time period.
Not only has the amount of waste increased, but the volume of recyclables in the waste stream also continues to be a problem. For example, an article on Earth 911 shows that while 62 percent of paper used in 2009 was recycled, paper is still the number one product that Americans throw into the waste stream (making up 28% of total waste). The volume of plastic, aluminum and glass in the waste stream is also staggering.
Taking the Easy Way Out or Pushing for Change?
Much of this comes from simply doing what is easiest without much regard to the implications of those actions. People go to Subway and walk away with the plastic bag without questioning whether it is really necessary if the sandwich has already been wrapped in paper. People accept “to go” cups at Starbucks even when they are planning to have their coffee there.
As an example, BlogHer, a major women’s blogging conference, aims to make its conferences as green as possible, and prefers to have meals served on china where possible. They were told that wasn’t possible at the San Diego Conference Centre’s Sails Pavillion because it isn’t carpeted, so they requested “recyclable or compostable or otherwise eco-friendly serving ware.” That was not, however, what was provided. It seems the San Diego Convention Center just opted to take the easiest route instead of the most eco-friendly one.
BlogHer attendee and plastic-free advocate Beth Terry wrote:
I gasped when I got to the lunch buffet line, starving after having missed breakfast, and encountered black plastic plates. And not just any kind of plastic, but polystyrene — a particularly toxic kind that is rarely recycled.
Amber Strocel, another green blogger at the event, wrote:
The San Diego Convention Center, where BlogHer was held, served all of its food and beverages on disposable dishes. The plates were made of type six plastic, or polystyrene, and were quite heavy so at first I thought they might actually be washing them. However, I observed the servers throwing them directly into the garbage, so that clearly wasn’t happening. Polystyrene is not typically recycled, and so if the dishes aren’t reused, they’re going to the landfill.
In the end, Terry and Strocel both decided to keep, wash and reuse the plastic plates that were provided to them for the rest of the conference. While they weren’t happy to be using plastic, they wanted to at least ensure that they weren’t throwing additional plastic into the landfill at each meal. Terry, Strocel and other green bloggers expressed their disappointment to BlogHer and they were able to get the San Diego Convention Center to change its policies and, among other things, offer china plates in all parts of the convention center.
You Can Make a Difference Too
Talking about the Takeout Without campaign in an interview with Dandelion Dish, Lisa Borden said: “When you throw something away, where do you think away is? There is no away.” All that waste ends up in the landfill and grows and grows over time.
Borden would like to see more consumers taking a stand: “I would like to see people refuse packaging and bring their own from home or the office.” She went on to explain that people can do small things like refusing the napkins, ketchup packets, and plastic utensils that they so often automatically add to your takeout order. They can also encourage restaurants to ask customers if they need ketchup, utensils, straws and so on instead of automatically including them with every order.
From Resistance to Incentives
Not all businesses understand the problem initially though and may be resistant to change. I remember having to refuse the plastic bag at Subway three times when an employee kept insisting that he was required to put the sandwich in it. Borden has also experienced resistance at first when trying to avoid disposable packaging. In an e-mail Borden wrote about her experience at her favorite Sushi restaurant:
There used to be a restaurant that we would frequent for seaweed salad and sushi. The first couple times we showed up with our own containers, they had already packaged our food (complete with the most evil green plastic sushi grass of uselessness!). We explained what we were doing, and that we would bring our own glass containers in, they could put their gorgeous food into them and we would go home happily. We didn’t want the individual soy sauce, or disposable chopsticks, or napkins. They kept insisting that it would compromise their creations and the way they liked to do things. I was so confused…as a business owner I was saving them money by not using their supplies, so I explained that unless they would change their mind, I would change mine about ordering with them. And then they stopped resisting, and even started chuckling…they would explain to their other customers what we were doing, and we no longer became the only ones walking in their doors with pyrex containers for pickup. Moral of the story: you can pleasantly take great pride in making change…and where you cannot, go somewhere else.
Once businesses realize the benefits of reducing their use of disposable containers, they may even choose to offer incentives such as providing a larger portion or offering a discount. A lot of coffee shops already do this when people bring in their own mug. Ultimately, avoiding the use of disposable containers is good for everyone. It is great for the environment and also reduces costs for the restaurant.
Many of us already take our own coffee mug or reusable shopping bags when we go out. But we can do more. If you want to join the campaign to reduce restaurant waste, Takeout Without has three suggestions to get started:
Will you participate in this campaign? What steps will you be taking to reduce restaurant waste?
Photo used with permission by Lisa Borden from takeoutwithout.org
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