Dining out

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Avoid take-out and fast food packaging

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Whether you’re on the go and in need of a quick lunch or craving some Chinese take-out from the restaurant around the corner, you may be able to lessen the packaging trash load with a few simple habit-changes.

How to avoid take-out and fast food packaging

  • Brown bag it: Here's a simple solution: prepare ahead and pack your own food in reusable containers.
  • Drink sustainably: Take your own coffee mug or water bottle. Some beverage bars even let you bring your own cup for slushie drinks, including Starbucks, Booster Juice, and 7-eleven.
  • Carry home your recyclables: Many restaurants don't recycle. If they dont, bring the containers home to recycle. And if you’re left with extra packets of ketchup or wads of napkins, take those home too to use later. Need help finding out what you can recycle in your local area? Check out Earth 911 for a comprehensive listing of recycling facilities in your community.
  • Provide your own eating accessories: Although most restaurants won’t pack their take-out food in your containers, you can always bring your own eco-friendly cloth napkins, recycled, chlorine-free paper napkins, and biodegradable cutlery to the fast food table. You’ll be following in the EcoAgents’ footsteps—a group that’s spearheading an ECO TO GO™ campaign to reduce excess take-out waste.
  • Bring your own container for leftovers : If you think you might be "doggie bagging" it, why not pack your own reusable containers with you to take home any leftovers. Some are ultra-compact and better than the cardboard, plastic, or Styrofoam thing they’ll give you.

Find it! Fast food container alternatives

There's a container here for every need! And if you plan to re-heat food in them, opt for glass over plastic.

Avoiding fast food and take-out packaging waste helps you go green because...

  • Fewer resources are used to create your one-use packaging.
  • Less waste is sent to landfills, including plastics that can take up to 1,000 years to decompose.

Eating on the go generates mountains of garbage. Sixty-four percent of the waste created by fast food restaurants is paper and plastic from the packaging.[1] But on-the-ground fast food joints aren’t the only source of take-out waste. Cruise ship passengers each generate 7.7 pounds of garbage daily—compared with the 1.7 pounds produced by each local person on shore. In addition, cruise ships often does significant damage to coral reefs when they dock.[2] And US airports generate approximately 425,000 tons of garbage.[3]

Currently there are no federal regulations that force US companies to reduce their fast food waste, although a few local governments are encouraging such action. When Wilmington, North Carolina began requiring restaurants and bars to recycle garbage, the amount of recycling increased by 75 percent—from 1,500 to 2,000 pounds per day to 2,500 to 3,000 pounds per day—within the first month.[4] And some chains have voluntarily switched from non-recyclables like Styrofoam packaging to more eco-friendly options, although these moves are small in relation to the size of the problem.

Recycling paper and plastic from restaurants can have a large environmental impact. The recycling process produces less pollution and uses fewer resources than manufacturing products from virgin materials.[5] The Green Restaurant Association recommends that restaurants not only recycle their garbage, but also carry recycled paper goods, tree-free paper products, and biodegradable dishes and flatware for take-out.

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