Reducing Waste When Eating Out

Note: This article was originally posted in The Gentle Activist on June 12, 2019. The Gentle Activist Facebook page it refers to is still active! Check it out and give it a like and follow!


This week, I’m looking at #3 on Beth Terry’s list of 100 Steps to a Plastic-Free Life: “Carry your own containers for take-out food and leftovers.”

Ooh boy. This is where you take your eco-ness public! Sure. I refuse straws and plasticware, and I’m diabetic and eat ketogenically; so asking for all the substitutions is now mostly normal for me. I feel like this takes it up a notch though. Imagine the stares when you whip out your reusable containers at a 4-star restaurant! I even considered that I could just use my containers when restaurants use plastic or foam (yes, some still do). Paper’s not so bad. Right?

I admitted to myself that paper is still waste and requires more energy to make all those single-use pieces than my one reusable container, so I read this article about Carrying Our Own Containers. The article covers a whole host of ‘refusing waste’ options and basically helped me get over myself. I mean, why not bring my own container to restaurants if I do it at the grocery store?

I also checked out this article from the Salty Waitress, which gave me a little more courage. If I’m hearing from a server that it’s okay, then it should be cool. Still, what about the health code or just the liability a restaurant has?

I mean, what if you go home, eat your leftovers, and get food poisoning? You could technically blame the restaurant. Though you could mishandle any leftovers even when the container comes from the restaurant. So, I did a little more reading and found this great article in Forbes. They actually addressed this concern and referred to a question posed by a restauranteur in Restaurant Business, an online industry magazine.

The advice they gave was for the restaurant to allow the person to box their own food rather than taking it and their questionable container back to the kitchen. That seems reasonable to me. I’m sure some restaurants will still refuse, but at least we’ll be trying. In fact, wouldn’t it be easier to not even ask; but to just pull out your container and place your leftovers in it before they even offer to box it for you? I wouldn’t do this in a fine-dining restaurant; but your local pub shouldn’t be an issue.

I also like the additional suggestion to restaurant owners of creating and selling reusable containers with their logos. It’s like the craft breweries selling growlers with their logos. If reusable containers can be made that popular in the brewery industry, why not in the restaurant industry? Mind you, they won’t want you bringing in other restaurants’ containers; but if you eat at a certain place often – especially if it’s take-out – wouldn’t that be a great idea?

In the end, I decided to start doing this with any restaurant that’s not a high-end one. Those, in my experience, typically use biodegradable paper for boxes and I don’t often have leftovers there since they tend to portion appropriately. I also will start asking in advance what they use for boxes and let them know we won’t need a bag at all. We plan to have dinner out this Friday. I’ll bring my reusable containers and tell them I’m trying to reduce waste…if we have leftovers.

P.S. Last week, on The Gentle Activist Facebook page, I wrote about reducing use of plastic bottles as the #2 action on My Plastic Free Life’s list. Since I was already about 95% there, but would sometimes forget to bring water when we were out and about; the one thing I said I’d do is to get a reusable bottle to keep in my car. Done!

Do you take reusable containers to restaurants? How does that work for you?

~Julie

2 thoughts on “Reducing Waste When Eating Out

  1. Hi Julie – This is my response. I didn’t leave it at comment spot because it wanted me to sign up for Word Press. I’m don’t want to sign up for more things. Is there a way around that? Good article, Julie. We (Dave most of the time) reuse egg cartons at our close by Co-op. He used to reuse a container for a granola he purchased at Whole Foods. But, when they were bought by Amazon the checkers requested he not bring in recycled containers. He shops elsewhere as much as possible and doesn’t eat granola now. We talked about taking reusable containers to restaurants but haven’t done so yet. Haven’t eaten out much lately and it seems where we have been eating they serve smaller portions. We do have a favorite breakfast spot who serves large portions. I’ll have to think about what container would be appropriate for take home from that place. Also, we thought about bringing something to hold meat we purchase from Whole Foods since they use a lot of coated butcher papers to wrap their products. I’m not sure they would allow us to bring our own containers for meat. Have you read anything on that subject?

    On Fri, Oct 4, 2019 at 2:33 PM The Wandering Gants – RV Life wrote:

    > Julie Gant posted: ” Note: This article was originally posted in The > Gentle Activist on June 12, 2019. The Gentle Activist Facebook page it > refers to is still active! Check it out and give it a like and follow! This > week, I’m looking at #3 on Beth Terry’s list of 100 Step” >

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    1. Thanks, Mom! I’m glad you like the article. And, of course, I know you reuse and recycle as much as possible. I’m not sure about bringing your own containers for meat. I’d never thought of that! I wouldn’t be surprised if places like PCC allow it. The coated paper is definitely better than plastic bags and the non-degradable foam though. As for commenting…I’m not sure what you mean because this is a comment on the post, so whatever you did worked. 🙂 Love you!

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