Zero Waste: Takeout, Eating Out, Out and About

A new habit I am trying to develop is thinking ahead to avoid waste when I’m away from home. So far, my zero waste efforts have been focused on what I do at home, but I want to be more proactive about reducing waste when I’m out.

I’ve noticed lately how many disposable products are used in eating out. A lot of casual places use disposable everything, even for customers eating in the restaurant. Even when they offer real glasses, cutlery and plates, you’re still often faced with a paper napkin, a straw and its packaging, pods of UHT milk, condiment packets, toothpicks…

First thing, I started bringing my own coffee cup when I went to get coffee out, if I was going somewhere that didn’t offer real mugs. I already had a pretty ceramic travel mug, which I started bringing more habitually. I also have a stainless steel cup with a straw for cold drinks, which I dug out of the dumpster, of all places. (I washed it really well.)


I thought bringing my own mug would be a huge hassle, but it hasn’t been. One time, I spontaneously changed plans while I was out and wanted to get coffee, but hadn’t brought my mug. Oh, what was I to do?! I didn’t get coffee. And here I am, still alive to tell about it. I feel that a lot of disposable products get used mainly because we want to eat and drink all the time, everywhere, on the go, and without planning. One probably healthy alternative is just not to.

Next thing on my agenda was to try to buy ice cream from a local place, using a glass jar. Ice cream is a favourite food of mine, but ice cream cartons aren’t recyclable (at least in our area). So I armed myself with a jar which was sized for a pint and shaped much like an ice cream tub. And I went to a nearby branch of Amy’s and asked to buy a pint, packed in the jar. The server agreed, because she said she agreed with what I was doing, but wasn’t sure whether their policy might be against it. Well, I tipped her, hoped she didn’t get in trouble, and went home satisfied. The second time I went back, I got a different server, who asked a colleague, ‘Do we do that here?’ He replied, ‘Yeah we do!’ Then he turned to me and asked if I was the one who had brought in the jar before.


Here’s me enjoying the last portion straight from the jar. But I don’t recommend that, because there was ice cream on the lid and it got all over me as it melted!

Another situation arose when we planned to go out for lunch over the Thanksgiving holidays. We were headed for one of those eateries that uses all disposable products, so I armed myself with a water bottle, a cloth napkin, and a set of small cutlery I assembled from thrift store bits (just mismatched metal cutlery in small sizes, including a real airline knife which means I could take this kit travelling).


I even brought a glass dish to see if they would make my meal in it, but health code prevents them taking my dish behind the food prep counter – fair enough. But I was pleased to find that their fries were served in uncoated cardboard trays, and they had a bin for compostables, meaning that this meal just produced the two pieces of paper you see here (tray liner and food tray), both of which got composted. Not bad.

Finally, I’ve been wanting to address pizza takeout for a while. Pizza is our traditional Sunday evening meal, either takeout or a frozen one. I know, I could make it from scratch, or eat something else, blah blah blah. You know those routines you just can’t budge? This is one of them. As soon as I try something else for Sunday evening, it puts me over the edge. So I’ve accepted that pizza is here to stay.

BUT! One week, eating a takeout pizza from a local place, I looked at the cardboard box and thought, ‘That looks really clean.’ The pizza itself sat on a cardboard disk, and the box barely touched it. So you know what I did. Next week, I went to pick up the pizza and brought the box back to reuse, inwardly preparing my speech to make the request. They didn’t even flinch, and before I said anything, asked, ‘You want to use that box?’ YES!

The pizza still comes on the cardboard disc (which I’ve been using as fire starter, but could also compost), and that box is going strong several pizzas later. Someone at the pizza restaurant told me that reusing the box saves them money, so they are happy to let me do it. (What would be even better is if they gave me a discount! Maybe someday.)


Finally, let me share a couple of observations about these new habits.

Are they more trouble? Yes, each in their various ways. But I feel better doing these things, this way. As I’ve discussed before, feeling good about what you’re doing is sometimes more important than the precise level of convenience.

They’ve also forced me to pause in my voracious hunger (breastfeeding is my excuse) and think twice about what I’m wanting to eat: Do I need it? Will I really enjoy it? Will it be worth a little extra trouble to avoid disposable packaging? If bringing my own cutlery, or a mug, or making a special trip to the ice cream store 3 minutes away, is too much trouble – then I probably don’t need the food anyway. On the other hand, if the urge for ice cream is just too strong, then I won’t mind the trouble. Indeed, a special trip, just to get ice cream, just to satisfy a sudden craving, can be quite fun – and actually more fun than keeping a permanent freezer stock of ice cream to eat mindlessly, just because it’s there. Now you know my weakness.

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