Consumers in the United States are seeing plastic pop up more and more in the packaging of the food they buy, whether from restaurants or supermarkets. Plastic packaging is having an impact on the environment, and many environmentalists are telling the manufacturing industry that it isn't doing enough to increase its use of recycled plastic in food packaging. According to the American Chemical Society’s Chemical & Engineering News, decreasing the use of plastic in the food industry by just 30 percent could save $7.3 billion in environmental costs. Until food plastic manufacturers decide to use more recycled materials in their packaging, here are few tips you can use to decrease your own plastic consumption when ordering carryout or delivery.
Use Your Own Cutlery
This is the easiest habit to implement when ordering food to-go. Request that they don’t include cutlery in the bag and use your own when you bring the food home. If you are eating at work or on the go, have a set of camping cutlery in your desk or bag. Just remember to wash it when you get home so it’s clean when it’s time to use it again. Here’s an example from Amazon that folds up like a Swiss army knife when not in use. If you want something more elaborate, here’s a set that comes in different colors, has a carrying case, and comes with chopsticks, a knife, and straws.
Don’t Get a Drink or BYOC
Most restaurants put their fountain drinks in waxed plastic, which can’t always be recycled. (Many times what can be accepted for recycling depends on the city and its regulations.) If you are ordering food for delivery, simply don't get a drink and use whatever you have at home. If you are getting carryout and do order a fountain drink, bring your own cup (BYOC) and ask if you can use that instead. It's best if you ask ahead of time by calling, but if they offer free refills, they probably won't say no.
Ask If They Use Styrofoam
Similar to vegetarians who have sworn off meat, you can just swear off certain food packaging altogether. Call the restaurant first and ask if they use styrofoam packaging for carryout orders. If they do and there isn’t an alternative (e.g., putting your salad in a biodegradable soup cup instead of a styrofoam container), it may be best to choose another restaurant. While this can be a hard rule to follow since styrofoam is extremely common in food packaging, it is your choice to decide where to eat and order from.
Suggest Environmentally-Friendly Products
If your local restaurant has a feedback email or box in the restaurant, consider leaving a note about environmentally-friendly products. Let them know that you prefer businesses that use those types of products and that it'd be really great if they would consider it.
However, don't try to blackmail them by saying that you won’t patronize their restaurant again or that you'll leave a negative review if they use a lot of plastic or styrofoam products. Just making a friendly and polite suggestion may be enough to have the owner at least do some research into using less plastic.
Bring Your Own Bag
Many of us simply take the plastic bags that are given to us whenever we buy food. However, you don't have to take the bag! You can request ahead of time not to have your food in a bag or just bring your own bag and give them the plastic one back whenever you are picking up your order. This isn't possible if you're getting food delivered, as the driver needs a bag to transport your food from the restaurant to their car, and then to your home. Always have bags in your car to use whenever you're transporting food so you never have to take a plastic bag you don't want.
Decreasing your use of plastic and recycling whatever plastic you can are great steps towards personal responsibility for plastic consumption. While it's not possible to change the entire food industry and the way it packages products, just being more environmentally aware and having options available is a good way to make a small dent in the amount of plastic being used for food.