Whenever we decide to change something in our lives one of the most difficult aspects of carrying out our goals is sticking to our plans when we leave our homes or break our schedule. Whether its exercise, diet, prayer or any number of positive choices we make, following through is hard when, like, regular life is happening all around us. Zero Waste is no different. It can be very difficult to stick to your guns when faced with plastic covered awesome stuff or delicious plastic wrapped food outside your home. This post will show you some ideas that will hopefully equip you to better handle these situations and live a non-outcast life, an in-cast life. Haha! No need to be the weirdo that declines Coldstone after a movie because of that “new lifestyle thing their doing.” Boo. No, please keep living life outside your home and office. Here’s how:
Right off the bat. No getting around it. You’ll need to prepare. But for sure, if you’ve made it this far with Zero Waste then you have the ability to prepare for a night out away from the comforts of a waste free home. You can do it!
Start by thinking about where you eat out the most. Coffee shops? Sit-down restaurants? Food trucks? Your inlaws? Even places that serve their dishes on real dishes still have disposable to-go ware. If your favorite places serve up big plates that you think might turn into tomorrow’s lunch, think ahead. Will it be messy or contained, baked or soupy? A mystery? It sounds simple but just like those reusable bags everyone owns, your containers and utensils will be useless if they are left at home or in the car.
Many yummy restaurants, cafes, and food trucks don’t have the facilities to retrieve and wash reusable tableware and utensils for the number of guests they serve so they spread out the paper and plastic. Don’t forget events like state fairs and concerts too! Elephant ears, BBQ, ice cream, chili. All of those disposable forks and spoons add up and honestly, they never work as well as the good old metal kind. Easy fix. Bring your own.
There are many handy metal foldable, lightweight, spork /knives and spoon and fork pocket knives available at REI and other camping stores. They look high quality and I think would serve you well. Myself and my family have just been using our regular utensils when we go out. Maybe in the future we can find less cumbersome materials but for now they work just fine.
Wrap your utensils in something. You can use mini tool belt style rolls, cloth baggies (click HERE for my post on cloth and a tutorial on making your own reusable baggies) or simply chuck a fork into your coat pocket. One route that is cleaner post-meal is to keep them in a pencil pouch. Pencil pouches are the perfect size and slip easily into a satchel or purse. Rinse or wash out when they get dirty. Sometimes, too, when something looks seemless and purposeful then it seems much more casual or expected. So pulling a fork out of a pencil pouch is probably less strange than magically pulling one from your pocket. Maybe.
PLATES AND BOWLS
This is not a necessity for every evening out, but there are events where things will be served on disposable plates and bowls. Continuing with the Coldstone reference, some places have a predetermined portion based off of your order and may be able to plop it into a bowl you brought yourself. Unfortunately, many places will refuse to use your stuff brought from home and the best thing you can do is ask for a reason and politely respect their answer. Don’t throw any shade. It won’t help the cause! If you must purchase the food anyway don’t get too beat up about it either! Zero waste is a lifestyle change, not a regimen that makes you a good person. There will be times of frustration and disappointment because there is no zero waste answer. Keep your head up. I think that the more common zero waste requests and discussions are then the eventual result will be that businesses will bend to the needs of the customer.
While more cumbersome than utensils, most places that you’ll need plates or bowls you may already need a backpack, wagon, stroller or car. Fairs, markets, bazaars- you will pack a lot of things so make sure to throw in some of these options or others like it.
TO-GO AND TAKE OUT
You’ve chosen a nice restaurant to spend dinner with the family. The plates are only half empty but all the stomachs are full. Even if the restaurant has biodegradable to-go wares it really doesn’t ring true to the goal of no waste. Good thing you remembered to bring your reusable food containers. At first this might seem like it’s lacking class, but honestly, if you are at a place that gives you a doggy bag then you aren’t pushing it too far to ask that they put it in your own personal doggy bag. If you are at a restaurant where the server takes the plate to the back to dish it up then ask if you can do it yourself to make it easier. If you are at a very fancy restaurant then your portions probably won’t be enough to be bagged up or at least you might want to forgo the whole thing anyways.
Some ideas for less bulky and/or less conspicuous containers for eating out include the camping set from above, pop up silicone containers or even thermoset for messy food. Of couse you home tupperware works as well. There is no way of getting around that you’ll need to bring a bag, satchel or large purse for these things unless you walk in with your containers in your hands like a boss.
Here is the tricky one of the two: Take-out. Unfortunately, I cannot think of a way to get around take-out. The goal is to have the food ready for you when you come through the door or have it delivered to your very own door. How can they possibly put it in your own tableware?
Would I ever break this rule? How and why? Yes, and I’ll tell you. I would break this rule if the containers are 100% biodegradable and the food is for a large group for whom I cannot or will not cook for.
So, yes, if I can prevent a large number of people from buying take out in plastic or foam then I will opt for the cardboard. The reasoning is that when going zero waste and hosting a large event or party, you need to pick your battles and know your strengths. Yes, we will be having pizza and composting the boxes. No, we will not be using disposable plates or forks etc. Don’t go insane over a pizza box. No shame in not going insane.
Simple enough. Take your own cloth napkins or cloth wipes from home. roll them around your utensils inside your pencil bag or cover. Try to use one side so that you can fold it up with the clean side out to put back after the meal.
THAT’S ALL FOR NOW!
Thank you for reading! I hope this list has been helpful and encouraging to you. Bringing zero waste practices into your life does not need to mean stopping all the fun you are used to having. Get out there and show the world that you don’t need to be wasteful to have a good time. As always, this is a process and I recommend conquering each step at a time, creating good habits before taking more on. We all have different size plates so know your plate and don’t pile too much on at once!