Zero waste takeaway food may not always be possible, but there are plenty of ways to do takeout with less waste. Here are some great tips on reducing the trash and getting your favourite foods waste free.
Below are lots of options to pick from, and if you're doing the War on Waste Challenge, remember, pick one thing that makes a difference to you AND can fit into your lifestyle.
Eat in For less waste
Admittedly not always convenient, but opting to eat your favourite takeaway in the place you purchase it can go a long way towards reducing waste. This avoids disposable food containers or wrappings, along with the bag it usually is placed in. Unfortunately, these days some places that sell fast food and a high volume of takeaway adopt standard disposable packaging for eat in items too, along with single use condiments and disposable cutlery. Always ask - We discovered a few months ago that one of our local fish and chip shops has real plates and cutlery which we now request whenever we visit there.
Pick Up, Not Delivery
Delivered food is such a simple way to get food but not only does it usually take longer, it comes with unavoidable packaging and many delivery workers are paid poorly and have substandard working conditions.
When you pick up your takeaway, you have the option to refuse some waste on the spot, or to put some of the ideas below into practice.
Uber Eats has been extremely popular and although the iconic paper bag makes the company look sustainable, you may need to take a closer look at the packaging you're receiving. Read this post on how recyclable is Uber Eats packaging.
BYO Takeaway Container
Whether it's sushi, sandwiches, pasta, cake or hot chooks, it's often possible to bring your own container to use. Some places may not be as accommodating as others, and it can be problematic with some set-ups due to food safety processes. But remember, you are allowed to ask and there is no law against using your own containers. If you have a regular spot you duck out to for a quick takeaway lunch or dinner, have a chat to the people behind the counter to explain you are trying to live with less waste and can they help. After several waste free visits, they will become used to your requirements and you might notice some of their other customers starting to do the same.
What kind of containers should you bring? Check your kitchen cupboard for Tupperware and containers with lids. If it's hot food, give some thought to how you'll carry it and you may want to opt for oven safe glass storage containers with lids, or stainless steel food storage, rather than plastic. Don't forget to bring a tea towel or reusable bag to protect your hands from the heat. You could even bring a pot or a baking tray providing it has a cover.
Tasmania and Western Australia have been in the news recently, along with the Blue Mountains and many other locations around Australia as campaigners call for a ban on takeaway containers and other single use plastics, especially at public festivals and events. Darwin plans to actually enforce a ban on these items at events starting January 2019.
If you're in Australia, check out Trashless Takeaway, a website dedicated to helping you find places that accept your containers. You can also list those you find and it does make life easier.
Skip the Carry Bag
People often remember their reusable shopping bags, but have you thought about the takeout bag?
Many are small plastic bags that are difficult to reuse and if flimsy, orders are sometimes double bagged too!
Paper bags are definitely a better option and easy to recycle, but do you even really need it?
Skipping the bag all together and bringing your own, or simply doing without is another step towards being greener.
Say No to Disposable Cutlery
Plastic forks, knives and spoons are designed to throw away and can cause issues in recycling facilities due to their shape. Of course, they are also mostly plastic - the fact they might be used for ten minutes and last for 500 years in landfill is crazy.
You can buy zero waste reusable cutlery sets and the bamboo version is useful if you're a frequent air traveller due to airport security. You don't even need to purchase anything, why not just grab a fork and spoon from your own cutlery drawer at home and take it with you? If you don't have enough, op-shops are a fabulous place to purchase the odd pieces of cutlery you may need without having to try and search the stores for package free versions.
If You Can't Avoid Waste, Request Less Packaging
No matter how careful you may be, there will always be times you are caught out and it really isn't the end of the world - Don't get too hung up on being perfect and try to adapt when you can, like asking for less packaging.
Humans are creatures of habit, so it's likely we visit the same or similar places for takeaway food. This gives us a bit of insider knowledge when it comes to expected packaging. For example, sandwiches and toasted focaccias often come wrapped in a layer of wax coated paper and then placed into an individual paper bag. Why not ask for one layer to be left out? At the bakery, could you get some items in the same bag instead of individual bags?
Subway used to always wrap their subs and then put them into sub sized plastic bags, which were pretty useless. I'm not sure if they still do this, but that's a great example of packaging that can be easily refused. This action is going to be heavily dependant on the type of foods you might be buying and is one of those 'work in progress' actions that develop over time.
Refuse The Extras
Takeaway extras like sauce, mayonnaise, salt & pepper, sugar, toothpicks, refresher wipes, toys and more can all be refused. By being packaged into individual serving sizes, so much more waste is created. The person serving you is probably going to automatically give you these things anyway so be ready to repeat your request. If you already know what type of things they are likely to give you, you'll have a better idea of what to ask NOT to have.
Once they have given you an item, they usually cannot take it back so if you do end up with something, consider taking it home to use.
Remember, if staff are rude, you are totally within your rights to refuse the standard junk they give you and report any problems to the store manager.
Receipts are an extra we often don't give a lot of thought to, but sometimes you can ask them not to print one at all. And leave the takeaway menu in the shop, you can almost always locate these online along with coupon codes and deals.
Search For Takeout Places With Ecofriendly Options
Facebook, Instagram and google can help you find sustainable focused food places near your home. We are lucky as our favourite takeout (Barry's Burgers) come from a local place focused on recyclable, sustainable packaging. Pizza is popular in our house and we can compost the boxes, but those little plastic things they put on to hold the pizza in place really irks me, but they can be recycled without too much trouble.
Some cafes will allow you to drop of your containers to be filled with your lunch order like Brother Bear Café. Look around to see what's near you and take note of the places that meet your ideals, as it makes reducing waste so much easier and you can still opt for convenience.
Food trucks and events are now starting to have commercially compostable plates, so if you’re at an event, try and find a food vendor that has these or an alternate ecofriendly option. (Note: check if there is actually a way to recycle on the spot, some only provide landfill bins and taking your rubbish home to recycle or compost is better).
Pack Your Own Lunch
Just thought I'd sneak in the idea of packing your own food or lunch. If you find yourself buying lunch out almost everyday, not only will you save a fortune, but you'll greatly reduce waste. Picnics are a really fun option for family outings or weekend adventures and this works for lunch or dinner.
Not sure your kids will be onboard?
I explained to my 6 year old daughter the cost of eating at an event we were going to. I also made some comparisons between the food cost and what activities she could be enjoying instead like side show rides, a treat like a doughnut, or taking part in a workshop. Once she realised that if we packed a sandwich and a drink, she would be able to do more and have more fun she was permanently converted to doing this and now even makes sure that we do it when going anywhere.
Think Outside The Box (or Packaging in this case)
Being ecofriendly sometimes just takes a little creativity. For example, you can get ice-cream in a cone rather than wrapped or in little tubs with disposable spoons. If you are buying a muffin to eat immediately, does it even need wrapping or a container?
Handy hint for cakes and doughnuts - Use a plastic container from your own cupboard and tip it upside down to use the lid as a tray. Just attach the lid and you have your own reusable cake box.
Even a McDonalds visit can be adjusted for less waste, so you don't have to give up all the foods you really love, just make adjustments when you can.
As a kid, when we ordered Chinese food, my parents would always make the steamed rice at home. That was one less container and pretty simple to do. You probably have some great ideas of your own to try out!
What To Do with Unwanted Takeaway Packaging
Despite your best efforts, there are going to be times you end up with packaging you didn't want.
Don't stress, it happens to the best zero wasters.
Consider if the packaging could be reused in any way. for example, plastic takeout containers can be really useful for storing leftovers or small items around the house such as buttons and small parts or even to start seedlings. They are also handy for holding small plastic items for recycling.
Serviettes, cardboard and paper might be accepted in your local green waste bin for composting.
Don't forget, many items can be recycled (but not getting too much in the first place is best).
I hope you found at least one way that works for you to get less waste with your takeaway food. What is your biggest takeout struggle?
Got some more ideas? pop them in the comments below, I love hearing how other people are cutting their waste creatively.
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