You know when you go out to dinner and order an entree the size of a child because you’re super hungry, but you only end up eating maybe half, so you decide to wrap up whatever’s left and take it home with you for later, because you don’t want to be wasteful. Well, as noble as you were not to waste the food you didn’t finish, your efforts to eliminate your waste were ultimately fruitless, once you factor in the heap of single-use foil and plastic that was used to wrap your food.
Last weekend at work, my coworker / close friend Radhika confessed a crime we’ve all been guilty of at times. “You won’t believe it, Dakota,” she said. This was her story (maybe not verbatim, but here’s the gist):
“Yesterday, I ordered sushi next door for lunch, as usual. Six cucumber rolls, some ginger and wasabi, and soy sauce, of course. I took it to go. It cost less than five dollars and took me less than five minutes to eat, and I walked less than twenty feet to eat it. The entire meal could fit in my hand, and yet, after I finished, I was left with the plastic box the sushi came in, two plastic ginger containers, one plastic container for wasabi, two plastic packets of soy sauce, single-use wooden chopsticks and the paper they were wrapped in, napkins, and the bag all of it came in. There was more plastic than there was sushi.”
A lot of damage for a less-than-five-minute / less-than-five-dollar / less-than-twenty-feet-take-away meal.
The guilt was all too real for Radhika, but most people don’t think twice about the amount of waste we use to move our food around. Especially when all those items could have been replaced with reusable ones. So I went to the Japanese dollar store, one of my guilty pleasures, and supplied my sushi-fiending friend the reusable versions of all the items she listed wasting on her favorite lunch. And we got sushi. It was waste-free, guilt-free and delicious. Here’s what it looked like.
And all I had to do was make room in my bag for just a little bit more crap, and ask the man taking my order at the sushi place to please use my own containers for our food. I told him which containers were for which items, asked if they would fit, and voila. No waste. We ate, rinsed our containers, and threw nothing away. It tastes better that way. Savor the taste of zero-waste, today. Here’s how:
Before leaving your house, ask yourself if you might a) stop for groceries, or b) go out somewhere to eat / pick up a beverage or food to go. Then pack accordingly.
If you might be picking up groceries, bring your own reusable shopping bags and reusable produce bags.
If you know you’re going to stop for coffee / tea / a smoothie, bring your own cup.
If you might be going out to eat, chances are, you’re going to take some leftovers to go. Bring your own to-go containers. I use glass containers with airtight, snappy lids so liquid contents don’t leak all over my shit. I bought microwave-safe ones so I can just open it up and nuke it later in the same container, so I don’t have to dirty an extra dish.
If you’ve ever worked in the food service industry, you’ve probably enjoyed the exhilarating task of rolling roll-ups, or sets of forks, knives and spoons (optional) rolled up in napkins. Bring your own roll-ups for snacks and meals on the go, including whatever utensils you may need and a hand towel, a cloth one, so you can wash and reuse all of the above.
If you’re hosting or attending a dinner at your or someone else’s home, bring or provide your own set of to-go containers, enough for everyone attending, to distribute leftovers for guests to bring home with them, so no food and no food-wrap-or-containers go to waste.
It may sound like a hassle, but if one extra step is what it takes to make this world a cleaner place, isn’t it worth it? Remember bringing your lunch box to school as a kid? Why did we stop? It’s not like we stopped eating lunch. So if you eat lunch, bring your own box.
Whatever you would be wasting, don’t. Bring your own.