If you know me, you know that I'm annoyingly concerned about waste. For the past few years I've been working on reducing waste overall, and more recently I've become more aware of the problems with plastic, so I try to avoid it as much as I can.
One could probably also say that I'm hypocritically concerned about these issues too, because sometimes I just throw all my ideals to the wind and buy the most plastic-y of plastic options (hello, Asian grocery store!). However, my overall philosophy is that life is all about balance, and trying to make a difference where and when you can without having a negative impact on too many other areas of your life.
My willingness to ask others to help me out on these issues has increased over time. For awhile, I just gave in to how our society and economy functions. I went with the flow and didn't want to make too many waves. I still don't think I have much power to change the wasteful tendencies that prevail (or if changing them will even help the environment very much), but I now try to make a few things happen when I'm out there in the consuming world.
When we were out at a local pizza place over the weekend, the two groups in front of us ordering had dietary restrictions. The first was allergic to gluten. The second was severely allergic to tomatoes. Setting aside the conclusion that these folks should have perhaps considered a different cuisine for their Saturday night, the restaurant, rightfully so, made great efforts to accommodate their needs. Then, we ordered, and despite our requests, we received straws and sippy cups. Now, I do not have any immediate health risks with straws or sippy cups, so this comparison is of course only tenuous at best. Allergies are no joke. But the damage single-use plastic is doing to our earth is not something to take lightly. Below I'm listing a few of the small actions I take to minimize waste when eating out. Maybe if more of us make these "waste restriction" requests at restaurants, they'll start to change their ways.
UNNECESSARY WASTE #1: Single-use cups
Action: Request no kids' cups
Success rate: High. Restaurants seem to understand when you want your kid to use their own cup.
Annoyance factor: Low. You have to remember to ask quickly, but it's usually met with reasonable response.
Benefits: Waste reduction; fewer spills
As soon as the host is leading us to our table, I try to remember to tell them we don't want any sippy cups or straws. Sometimes they tell me I can tell my server, but usually this is the time to ask, because most restaurants waste no time bringing out waters. Kids' cups drive me the most crazy of all waste-producing restaurant trends. It is common practice in our parenting world to have a water/milk/juice cup for your child. Almost every parent I know rarely leaves home without one. Therefore, most kids who arrive in restaurants are already going to be in possession of their own (usually plastic) cup. We don't need to add more plastic to the world!
Now, you may be thinking, what about those restaurants with the cute plastic cups with animals or cartoons on them and bendy straws that you can take home and reuse? First of all, the exciting nature of these cups makes them more of a problem than they're worth. My kids are always trying to test the straw's functionality in a way that results in spillage. Also, they are made of such cheap plastic that they don't hold up at home, so you're going to throw them out soonish anyway. Perhaps they're not single use, but they're still not a quality item.
Related: what age does a kid have to be before restaurants will just give them a regular glass!? Developmentally, kids are supposed to be able to sip from a cup by age 1, but it seems restaurants have missed that memo.
UNNECESSARY WASTE #2: Straws
Action: Request "no straws" and BYOS
Success rate: Low
Annoyance factor: Medium (server usually looks at you like you're crazy)
Benefits: Waste reduction; use of more enjoyable metal straw
I usually have success preventing kids' cups from appearing at the table. Straws, however, are a much bigger challenge. I think it's just force of habit? Restaurants that serve drinks with straws just can't seem to help themselves. I've also seen my drink appear on a bar with a straw, and then the server just takes the straw out and throws it away. Giving me what I want, I suppose, but missing the point. Nevertheless, I'm going to keep asking.
Perhaps the most egregious of all straws are cocktail straws. Usually, they're used merely to stir a drink, and then placed aside. Plus they usually give you two straws per drink! When ordering a cocktail, I try my best to remember to request no straws. I really think restaurants should invest in trendy drink stirrers. It seems so odd to me that a nice place serves you a $12 drink with a plastic straw...
When I do succeed, but still want a straw, I use metal ones that I carry with me. More enjoyable to drink from, too, I find.
UNNECESSARY WASTE #3: To-go containers
Action: Bring your own container(s)
Success rate: Very high. No one has ever said anything.
Annoyance factor: Low. You're basically doing your server's work for them, right? Sometimes I feel a tad awkward, but there's really no reason to!
Benefits: You can not only take your leftovers home, but also the food you probably wouldn't want to ask for a container for (bread, rice, condiments, etc.). Not only are restaurant take-out containers not usually recyclable, but they're also often not air-tight. If you bring your own container, you don't have to transfer the leftovers into a different container when you get home!
Exception: Pizza boxes. They're 100% compostable or recyclable, so I don't feel too bad about them. Also, do you have your own container big enough for pizza slices that also fits in your purse? I don't.
WASTE RISK #4: Barely-used crayons
Action: Take crayons home with you
Success rate: n/a
Annoyance factor: Low
Benefits: I've been asking at restaurants lately, and if they give your kids new, individually-packaged crayons, they're going to throw them out if you leave them on the table. Take them!
We're hitting the road this week, so I'm hoping to implement some of these strategies throughout our journey. Fingers crossed for some success. Happy Thanksgiving, all!