Takeout Without!

I stole this blog title from Takeout Without, a website that is trying to get as many people
as possible to reduce the waste generated from ordering takeout and
bringing home leftovers. Lisa Borden, the creator of Takeout Without, is on a mission to get people and restaurants to say NO to unnecessary packaging & waste that outlives us in landfills and often times ends up in our bodies of water (ever heard of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch?).

I too believe that one of the biggest areas for improvement when it comes to trimming waste and choosing eco-friendly alternatives is restaurant takeout. The American population tosses out enough paper bags and plastic cups,
forks and spoons every year to circle the equator 300 times

Let's dissect a typical carryout order -

  • The food comes in a plastic or often times styrofoam container.

Not only is styrofoam (or polystyrene) generally not recycled because it is very hard & expensive to break down but it does not biodegrade. EVER. It is noted that styrofoam waste will actually surpass paper &
plastic in clogging our landfills because of this.
Here's where it gets really depressing - styrofoam and plastic are also made from toxic chemicals that actually leach into your food. The hotter the item, the more likely it is that these chemicals will leach. In studies where styrofoam was weighed after being used to store hot food, it actually weighs LESS than it did originally.

Bisphenol-A (or BPA), a building block of plastic, is also more likely to end up in food when plastic is heated. So, if you get your carryout order in one of these containers, transfer the food to a regular plate as soon as you get it. Never put styrofoam or plastic in the microwave. And take a pass on that cup of coffee in a styrofoam cup that is so hot it actually has a warning written on it...

  • You then have the plastic silverware wrapped in even more plastic, nestled cozily with a napkin that is probably not made from any recycled content. Now, it may just be that I am extremely civilized, but unless I am at a cookout I much prefer using actual silverware.

  • Next we have the condiments, which are often times wrapped in another plastic bag. Ketchup, mustard & mayonnaise packets, soy sauce, salt and pepper...oh, and butter too. Now, unless you are bringing the food to that cookout, or enjoying it in your car, who doesn't have these staple items at home? Even the emptiest of refrigerators have condiments in them (and a bottle of champagne...ahh, the good ol' days).

  • And lastly, the bag used to hold all of this waste...er, I mean food. I just love it when they actually give you the plastic bag to hold the paper bag too, just in case enough plastic wasn't already wasted in ONE carryout order.

As much as I am trying my hardest to achieve green nirvana, I am a busy mom who is at times too tired to make dinner. Or clean it up. But there are many ways you can make your carryout order more eco-friendly:

  1. Decline utensils, napkins and condiments.
  2. When ordering ask for them to use as little packaging and bags as possible.
  3. Don't get the bread (it's empty calories anyways...).
  4. Bring your own bag to pick-up the food. Or at least decline the additional plastic bag used to hold your other bags.
  5. Be sure to recycle anything from the order that you can.
  6. Tell 'em you already have seven copies of their carryout menu and don't need another one.

In other words, Takeout Without!

If you go to a restaurant where you know they serve large portions and you will probably be taking some food home, then bring your own containers, aluminum foil and/or reusable bag. You may get a funny look, but you can just say "I prefer my food without polystyrene and BPA, thank you." And besides, your grandma would be proud.

The success of Takeout Without starts with you, the consumer. Restaurants aren't going to make changes to their routines or containers used in carryout orders unless you demand it. There are wonderful alternatives to plastic and styrofoam readily available today.

You can also go to www.takeoutwithout.com and download their action cards to give to your local restaurants. Support local restaurants that are taking steps to lighten their waste and offer safe & eco-friendly options for carrying their food, like Roti. For more eco-friendly restaurants in the Chicagoland area go to greenrestaurants.org.

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