Guest Author - Meredith Ball
Whether dining in and taking home leftovers or picking up food to go, your items will be packaged, wrapped, and bagged to ensure safe transport home. Is all of this packaging necessary or even healthy? We long for the tastiness of fried rice from our favorite Chinese restaurant or the pizza from our friendly neighborhood Italian restaurant. We envision the night ahead curled up with our tasty treats while watching a video and thus may not notice all of that packaging our food came in. Every trip to a our local coffee shop is one more cardboard cupped caffeinated delight.
There is no need to stop taking home leftovers or to stop enjoying your at home culinary events. You can have your cake and eat it too.
Restaurants tend to use three different types of packaging: styrofoam, plastic, and cardboard. While several states, cities and local restaurants have either banned or opted not to use styrofoam, these containers are still out there. It is important to understand that styrofoam is not biodegradable, not even in millions of years. In addition, the chemicals within styrofoam may absorb into your hot food. Thus, if you know that your favorite restaurant only delivers food in styrofoam containers you may want to think of an alternative, described at the end of this article.
Plastic containers, made from petroleum and taking thousands of years to biodegrade are also not the healthiest of options. The majority of plastic containers also contain BPA which can absorb into your heated food. BPA is not healthy for the body. Plastic containers, although slightly better than styrofoam for the environment, is still not the healthiest option.
Paper or cardboard boxes and cups for food and beverages could have been recycled if they werenít soiled by the food. In addition, the paper may contain bleach and/or chlorine that can affect your food and be emitted into the soil once the container is in a landfill.
Since all of these options donít seem to be the healthiest of choices, and we donít want to make our lives more complicated while trying to live more naturally, what are our simple options? First, know your restaurant. We all have our favorites and our usuals so we are aware of what material they package their food in. If your restaurant typically uses styrofoam, bring your own tupperware (hopefully BPA free) container from home so they can put your food in there. If you call your order in ahead of time, let them know that you will bring your own container and most restaurants will allow you to box your food yourself once you arrive. If you know that you usually canít eat all of the food at a particular sit-in restaurant, then bring your tupperware with you to box your leftovers yourself. Most restaurants wonít bring your container back to the kitchen to box your food for you due to health regulations, but you will be allowed to do this yourself at your table. The same applies for your coffee run. Bring your own thermos and avoid having to use the cardboard cup.
Second, skip the items that are not essential. Have you noticed that when you order take out you get with it some or all of the following items: fork, spoon, knife, napkin, and packets of salt, pepper and ketchup? If you are bringing this food home or even back to work, most likely there is a refrigerator with ketchup and condiments there, and silverware and napkins. The solution for this is simple to ask to not have any of those items when you pick up your food.
Lastly, even after packing up your food in your own container and avoiding the non-essential extras, a restaurant may still bring out the plastic or paper bag for you to carry your container home. Again, a simple solution is to bring your own tote bag.
Once you begin to set up a routine of bringing your container and bag with you to your restaurant, you will find that this doesnít add any extra time nor effort to your day. It will only add an even greater sense of satisfaction as you nosh on that slice of warm, cheesy pizza.