Who doesn’t enjoy a meal out now and then? I do all the cooking in my house, so when my husband says “do you want to go out to dinner?” it’s pretty much a rhetorical question. There are really two kinds of dining out: Fast food and sit down food. Depending on where you are eating, there may not be much difference in the amount of packaging / waste generated.
Ideally we would all eat at home or bring our meals to work each day; but our busy lifestyles are not well suited to the ideal. So how can we enjoy a meal out and still be responsible waste managers? Mostly, it’s just paying attention. I will provide some personal examples, and a couple of plugs to the restaurant chains I find responsible in this regard.
Fast food / to go food: these are the taco shops, burger joints, sandwich shop variety. A low cost quick bite without a lot of fuss and no tipping required.
- I like Subway’s sandwiches but I don’t need the plastic bag to carry the sandwiches to the table 5 feet away (or the car 20 feet away), nor do I need the stack of napkins they offer. The sandwich artist is usually baffled when I refuse the bag, but they keep it nonetheless.
- Rubio’s is another favorite – bonus – if you eat in the restaurant they give you a real plate and silverware instead of disposables. Besides their excellent street tacos, this keeps me choosing Rubio’s over other places.
- My favorite local taco shop Mananas also offers real plates and silverware when dining in. We often take our favorite tacos home to the family, in which case we skip the napkins and plastic utensils for the ones we already have at home and recycle the containers.
- For burger joints I’m afraid I cannot offer any names of responsible waste managers. Using trays instead of bags while dining in, in addition to napkin and cup management is about all you can do. Perhaps offering your own bag at the drive thru instead of the disposable variety, and avoid styrofoam options when possible.
The key to fast food waste management is to choose places that offer real plates and flatware when possible ( I know a few people that carry flatware with them. I’m not quite there yet), and skip any disposables you really don’t need. If you need to use plastic ware, take it home and wash it for re-use. They have a very long reusable life span and can be put in the dishwasher. When needed, compostable to go containers are the best, otherwise most of the foam containers offered these days are recyclable (look on the bottom for the symbol). Maybe skip the drink or bring your own cup. (I often bring my own water bottle when eating out and the establishments are surprisingly accepting of this practice.)
Once you leave the realm of fast food, it gets easier. A night out at a middle of the road sit down restaurant will most often have reusable everything, though I do carry a bandana in my purse for use as a napkin when only disposables are offered. Yes, I do get a few looks when I whip that out of my purse, but just as often I receive comments of what a cool idea it is.
Restaurant leftovers continue to be a challenge. I am trying to get better about bringing my own leftover container instead of using the disposable versions offered by restaurants. I find this an advanced level of responsible waste management, because I have to remember to get it before leaving the house. Not a great success record so far, but maybe some containers can keep my shopping bags company in the back of my car.