Reducing Take Out Waste

Chinese take out container
Mykl Roventine / Flickr (Creative Commons)

While we’re all about cooking around here, there are times when that’s just not an option. Maybe you had to work late or things were a bit too crazy for you to pre-cook meals for the week last weekend. Maybe you just want a night where you treat yourself. Whatever the reason, sometimes take out is just what’s on the menu.

The problem with take out meals is that you get a healthy serving of waste along with your dinner. From Styrofoam containers and paper napkins to sauce packets and plastic utensils, one take out meal for a family can produce a whole lot of trash.

Next time you’re considering take out, a little planning can help reduce the waste associated with your meal.

Instead of a styrofoam container like this, see if the restaurant is open to you taking your food in your own reusable container.
Instead of a styrofoam container like this, see if the restaurant is open to you taking your food in your own reusable container. Ruocaled / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Bring Your Own Container

Not all restaurants are going to be down with this, but if possible, let them know ahead of time that you’re going to bring your own, clean container to carry your food home. Many places will be happy to oblige, since those take out containers cost them money.

Some eateries are proactively working to get diners to bring their own containers. In Portland, Oregon, a company called Go Box is teaming up with local food carts to reduce take out waste. The Argonaut in Washington DC is doing something similar, offering diners $1 off of their meal for returning their to go containers.

condiment packets
Evelyn Giggles / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Just Say No to Extras

If you’re planning to eat at home, do you really need packets of ketchup or soy sauce? When you order your meal, let the folks at the restaurant know that you don’t need any of their extras. They’ll be happy to save the cash, and you won’t have to guiltily toss those tiny packets.

You can also ask them not to give you paper napkins or disposable utensils. Not only are cloth napkins and proper silverware better for the planet, they’ll make your take out dinner feel more like a real meal.

Do you guys have any other suggestions on how to green up a take out order? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments!

Written by Becky Striepe


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  1. Take-out waste bothers me and I bring containers often to be told they can’t because of health code laws or some such thing. Guess I should look into whether there really is a law here (MI) prohibiting that, or the individual restaurant’s choice. Find a few that will sometimes, but usually not. Great to see this topic being discussed!

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