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The List: Say No To These 7 Fast-Food Disposables

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A few simple changes to your fast food and take-out habits will help you reduce waste when dining.

With a busy schedule of sports activities and weekend jaunts, my family takes a lot of trips to fast-food restaurants. While I love the convenience and the deliciousness of crispy, hot French fries, I don’t love the inevitable mounds of trash that our quick meal ends up generating. Not wanting to throw them away, I amass a drawer full of disposable chopsticks and ketchup packets. And who am I kidding? Once a year or so I’ll grow sick of the accumulation and end up throwing them all out anyway!

While a little bit of trash goes part and parcel with a take-out meal, I’ve been trying to find small ways to minimize the disposables that I get with my meal. My thinking is, if everyone were more careful about what they took when they got take-out, then restaurants would use fewer of those items, and eventually, fewer single-use and throw-away products would be produced.

Producing less trash is a win for everyone.

Some quick-service restaurants are already trying to reduce their environmental impact by using greener packaging. McDonald’s, for instance, is committing to sourcing all recycled or certified packaging products. Starbucks uses recyclable cups and also rewards customers for bringing their own reusable travel mugs. Since they sell so many items across the country and around the world, large companies such as these have an opportunity to make a huge impact by working to create less packaging waste. But many companies are dragging their heels on this count, so it’s up to us to give our business to companies that do make an effort to reduce waste, which will hopefully encourage other businesses to follow suit.

To be greener while you’re dining out, here are a few things that you can decline from a server.

1. Straws

When I heard there’s a campaign to “say no to the straw” I was immediately on board. According to the movement, spearheaded by the Plastic Pollution Coalition, over 500 million straws are used in the US every single day! If you’re dining in, ask for no straw (If they automatically give you a packaged one, give it back to the server rather than leaving it on your table where it’ll get thrown away). Also, if you need a lid, great, but you often don’t. If you’re drinking your beverage in the car, consider investing in a set of reusable drinking straws to keep in your purse or vehicle.

2. Coffee Sleeves

Yes, your coffee or tea might be hot, but it will cool down quickly! So even though those cardboard sleeves are recyclable, wrap a napkin around your cup instead (and then save the napkin to use later). Or, if you’re crafty, knit a few coffee cozies; it’s a great way to use up scraps of yarn! (And really, shouldn’t you be using a travel mug anyway? It’ll keep your drink warm longer, and it’s part of an eco-friendly coffee habit!)

3. Condiment Packets

Ask your server for only what you need — better yet, if the restaurant has pump dispensers of ketchup and mustard, use them to fix up your food rather than using those non-recyclable packets.

If you work at an office and you’re often buying take-out, plan ahead and stock up on your favorite sauces and store them in the fridge, so you can avoid packets altogether.

4. Chopsticks

If you’re getting Chinese or Japanese take-out, chances are you’re going to be eating it at home. In which case, when you place your order, request no chopsticks, napkins, or sauce. Instead, use reusable wooden or plastic chopsticks, cloth napkins, and the bottle of soy sauce you most likely have in your fridge. But, if you do end up amassing a collection of disposable chopsticks, there are some fun craft projects you can do with them.

5. Plastic utensils

Just like with chopsticks, it’s always good to avoid using plastic utensils wherever possible. I especially hate the packets that wrap a set of utensils with a napkin and salt and pepper packets — who really needs a knife or a spoon to eat a hamburger? There are some lovely reusable utensils sets on the market that will help you cut down on wasteful disposables.

6. Bags

Say no to the plastic or paper bag that many restaurants pack their take-out in. You can either bring in your own reusable shopping tote, or press the rest of the family into service and have everyone carry their own food container.

7. Kids’ toys

Going out for fast food is often a treat in itself — do kids really need a cheap plastic toy that will just end up on the floor of the car or cluttering the bedroom? Explain to your kids that these toys are cheaply made, bad for the environment, and might even contain toxic chemicals like lead. Some restaurants will let you bypass the toy and get a dessert instead.

It takes a little practice to get in the habit of asking servers to not give you items such as straws and a handful of soy sauce packets — after all, it’s their job, and most people don’t say no.

Set a good example next time you’re at the counter and take a pass on the unnecessary and wasteful extras: If enough people like you say no to these items, it will send a strong message to businesses and could make a big difference in reducing waste from fast food and take-out restaurants!

How do you make efforts to stay green while eating take-out? Tell us your tips in the comments.

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.

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  • James B. 2 days ago
    > Explain to your kids that these toys are cheaply made, bad for the environment, and might even contain toxic chemicals like lead. <
    What did you think that Lead Soldiers were made of? Seriously, unless you immediately get them a replacement that is expensively made, good for the environment, and free of toxic chemicals, the children will quickly realize that Living Green" is just a way to deprive them of toys. Be careful to get an exact replacement, children know the difference between a realistic scary movie dinosaur and a pink kiddie cartoon version.
  • Duane W. 7 days ago
    I hardly eat fast-food, but when I do, I give back the silverware plastic if presented in a drive-thru (as I'm usually going home). Also, any plastic that used, like a salad bowl container, I recycle, even if I eat at the restaurant. I take it all home and clean them, then recycle.
  • Jennifer S. 9 days ago
    Can I recycle tea bags?
  • Theresa H. 10 days ago
    I try to always bring along a piece of fruit, a bottle of water, and a bag of nuts. I'm not perfect; when I stop for a much-needed coffee or something I'm craving for I try to forgo any extra items like packets, straws, etc. I keep bandanas in my car to use as napkins.
  • DominicRobert G. 13 days ago
    When purchasing to take home, ask to not have utensils and napkins added. I stopped using straws also, using reusable washable plastic tubing instead.
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