4 Ways to Reduce Waste When You Go Out to Eat

Let’s look at some practical ways to reduce waste when you
go out to eat.

They do exist: Starbucks "for here" mugs (Photo: Robyn Purchia)
They do exist: Starbucks “for here” mugs (Photo: Robyn

So far in this Zero Waste Home series, I’ve discussed grocery shopping
and cooking. But I’m
a city girl at heart who feels a strong draw to explore my
bigger home: San Francisco. That’s why I’ve worked to
bring my zero-waste habits to the restaurants, cozy cafes and
easy, family-style pizza parties I often frequent. Check out my
tips below — they’re a great way to reduce waste and help local
businesses save money.

1. Ask for a mug and a plate.

Before I started these efforts, I didn’t know Starbucks offered
anything else besides the ubiquitous to-go cup. But they do!

In fact, most coffee shops have mugs and plates for customers
who plan to enjoy their beverages and food there. For someone
who does most of my work at coffee shops, this realization has
given me an easy way to reduce waste every day. All I have to
do is ask when I place my order and most coffee shops are happy
to oblige.

Let's look at some practical ways to reduce waste when you go out to eat.
Reuse old takeout containers as to-go containers (Photo:
Robyn Purchia)

2. Bring to-go containers.

Of course, if you plan to enjoy your coffee or tea on the go,
you should bring your own thermos. This tip — along with the
tip to bring your own reusable water bottle — shouldn’t be news
for anyone reading this article.

But what about to-go containers for food? Restaurants are often
provide generous portions (or maybe I’m too ambitious with
my ordering). Typically, there’s food on my plate that’s
too good to throw-away. Going zero-waste also means reducing
wasted food and its impact on people
and the environment
. Bringing my own box to restaurants
helps me cut down on waste and take home some yummy leftovers
for tomorrow’s lunch.

But don’t limit the practice to taking home food from
restaurants. When it comes to bringing your own to-go
containers, it helps to think outside the box. If you buy
prepared food (i.e. salads, vegetables, roasted chicken) at the
grocery store, ask the person behind the counter to put your
meal in the container you brought. Instead of buying new jars
of spaghetti sauce, take a to-go container to your favorite
Italian restaurant or deli and ask to buy some of their
delicious sauce.

Think of how much waste your trusty to-go container can cut.
I’ve received nothing but positive responses from waiters,
grocery store employees, shops and even other customers when I
explain what I’m doing.

My son enjoys drinking his morning orange juice with a re-usable straw (Photo: Robyn Purchia)
My son enjoys drinking his morning orange juice with a
re-usable straw (Photo: Robyn Purchia)rob

3. Bring your own straw.

People are often surprised when I order my drink and specify,
no straw. One waitress even asked me how I planned to drink my
lemonade without a straw. (Ummm…) Perhaps they don’t know how
much straws suck for the environment.

According to the Surfrider Foundation approximately 500 million
plastic straws are used every day in the United States. That’s
enough waste to fill more than 127 school buses each day.
Unfortunately, these straws are filling up our landfills,
beaches and oceans. If you doubt their impact and feel
especially brave, look what a straw did to this
sea turtle

Although San Francisco is ahead of the curve when it comes to
curbing most waste, too many restaurants, cafes and bars in the
city still use unnecessary straws. (Question: why get a
margarita with a salted rim AND a straw?) For the rare times
straws do make sense — milkshakes, iced coffee, drinking out of
a coconut — I have my trusty re-usable straw ready in my

The hardest part is getting into the habit of telling people
you want your drink with no straw. When you only want water to
drink, it’s easy to assume it will arrive straw free. But no.
It probably won’t.

4. Take it one step further.

I know folks who also bring their own reusable napkins and
cutlery. I don’t worry about this in San Francisco because
restaurants compost their paper napkins and it’s really rare to
be served disposable cutlery. When I’m traveling this summer
though, I will probably add these items to my “going out” kit.

Have more tips to bring a zero waste home to eating out? I’d
love to hear them in the comments section!

A version of this article originally ran at Sustainablog. Republished
here with permission.

Keep up with the latest sustainable food news by
signing up for our free newsletter. CLICK HERE to sign