Eating more takeout lately? Me too. I’m trying to support my local restaurants as much as I can while social distancing, and takeout is a delicious, convenient, and efficient way to do that. Not to mention the much-needed break from cooking! However, my environmental guilt definitely creeps in every time I pick up the plastic bag full of Styrofoam, salad-dressing containers, extra napkins, and plastic forks. While spending so much time at home, I’ve tried to live as sustainably as possible — I even switched to Huppy toothpaste tablets and a bamboo toothbrush — but takeout is one area I struggle with. I want to support restaurants and love going out to eat, so takeout is one of the few ways I can replicate that feeling. However, the waste that takeout procures can be pretty substantial, and weighing that waste against the monotony of another night cooking over the stove can feel impossible. And unlike a coffee shop, you can’t exactly show up at the restaurant with your own Tupperware in tow.
Thankfully, you don’t have to trade enjoying takeout for low-waste living. Here are seven ways you can make your takeout a little more eco-friendly and support your local restaurants, too.
1. Wash and reuse plastic containers.
Lately, I’ve noticed that more and more of my takeout has arrived in plastic containers with a solid seal, rather than cardboard or Styrofoam. Even though they once held things like pasta covered in sauce or chicken lo mein, they’re perfectly good storage containers that can be reused! Wash them well with soap and water, or run them through the dishwasher (the takeout smell may linger at first, but I promise it will fade). I love keeping these on hand for giving baked goods to friends and family, since you don’t need to worry about getting the containers back, and for meal prepping lunches.
2. Notify the restaurant if you don’t need napkins or silverware.
While I occasionally pick up food on my way to an outdoor picnic, most of my takeout gets eaten at home, where I have plenty of napkins and silverware. These seem like small costs, but they add up for restaurants and for the planet. If you’re ordering online, most takeout forms have a section where you can add a note about your silverware needs, or lack thereof. It’s easy to do this over the phone or in the checkout line as well. After all, I know those plastic forks just end up at the bottom of a drawer, or worse, at the top of a landfill.
3. Customize your order to exclude anything you wouldn’t eat.
This is similar to number two, but more in the vein of food. Most online ordering forms allow you to customize your meal to either add or subtract ingredients. Rather than just adding to cart, take a look and ask yourself if there’s anything you won’t eat. If those candied walnuts or blue-cheese crumbles are just going to end up in the trash bin, remove them from your meal. This might seem like a small step, but it helps prevent food waste and keeps costs down for the restaurant, too.
4. Bring your own bag to carry items out in.
This one isn’t always easy, as takeout is often either delivered or ready for you to grab when you walk into the restaurant. But if I’m picking up something like multiple burrito bowls at Chipotle, I treat that trip like the grocery store and bring my own bag. When you’re checking out, just show the cashier your bag and grab your food to go. Neither plastic nor paper bags are great for the environment, and restaurants pay for them, so every little bit helps.
5. Reuse the bags the food came in.
For those times when you can’t bring your own bag, there are plenty of great ways to reuse and upcycle both paper and plastic bags. From a recycling caddy to the aforementioned baked-goods drop-off to doggy duty to these upcycling DIY projects, there are plenty of ways to keep your bags from ending up in the trash. If there’s a receipt stapled to it, carefully remove it so you don’t damage the integrity of the bag.
6. Reuse aluminum foil.
Did you know you can reuse aluminum foil? As long as you keep it clean and don’t tear it, aluminum foil can actually be reused indefinitely. As someone who’s been ordering a lot of takeout burritos lately, I was thrilled to learn this fact! Not interested in handwashing? You can even run it through the dishwasher. If you do tear through it and it’s too small to be useful (hey, I get hangry, too), toss it in your recycling bin — it’s accepted by most recycling centers.
7. Dispose of everything properly.
This one goes without saying. If containers are compostable rather than disposable, compost them. If a disposable container comes with a plastic lid, recycle it. I’m notorious among my roommates for fishing plastic — those tiny salad-dressing containers are a main culprit — out of the trash, cleaning it out, and returning it to the recycling bin. And of course, either finish, refrigerate, or compost any food you’re not going to eat.
Being sustainably minded with your takeout choices doesn’t just help the Earth, it helps restaurants, too.