I like to think I live pretty green. I recycle my plastics and my paper. We wait until it's 95 degrees out for three days in a row before we turn on the air conditioner. We compost our kitchen scraps. I turn out the lights, try not to waste water, put on a sweater before I turn up the heat. I buy organic as often as possible and eat pasture-raised meat. Heck, we don't even own a car.
But I can't really call myself earth-friendly until I stop getting take-out from restaurants. That has to be the biggest environmental disaster in my self-righteously tree-hugging neighborhood.
When I came down with a cold a couple of weeks ago my husband kindly brought me some hot and sour soup from the Chinese restaurant down the street. They packed the soup in the kind of plastic container New York City doesn't collect for recycling. Then they threw in a three-inch stack of napkins, a few soy sauce and hot mustard packets, and a plastic spoon. They put everything in a big paper bag with a piece of cardboard on the bottom and then they put that bag inside a plastic bag.
A few days later we went out for dinner. My son ordered from the adult menu and we decided to take home the leftovers for his lunch the next day. Into a giant Styrofoam clam shell went his dinner. And then we got the three-inch stack of napkins, the plastic utensils, the paper bag with a cardboard bottom, the plastic bag. Again!
Maybe it came as a shock because we don't eat out very often, but I couldn't believe how much crap they loaded into these double bags. What kind of barbarians do restaurants think they're serving that they need to include a skyscraper-tall stack of napkins? Why always the stupid little soy sauce packets even for food that doesn't need soy sauce? And do they really think I don't own my own cutlery and need to be supplied with plastic freebies? Why can't we use either a plastic bag or a paper bag? Why both? There's not enough sodium in restaurant food -- they have to raise my blood pressure more with this crazy trash?
Here's the customer these bags are made for: people who eat out so often they don't own forks, napkins, or soy sauce at home. People who live in fear of tipping food containers or tearing paper bags. People who want a convenient little handle to carry the bag with. In other words, high-maintenance slobs.
I'm going to go out on an optimistic limb here and say that most of us are not high-maintenance slobs of this order. Most of us would be totally okay with taking home dinner (or receiving delivery) in one bag and using the forks, chop sticks, napkins or paper towels, and soy sauce we already have in our kitchens. In fact, there are dozens of eco-friendly alternatives to Styrofoam containers out there, and they're not even that much more expensive. Go ahead, restaurateurs, charge me an extra 50 cents so I can take home my dinner inside something that biodegrades in 1 year instead of 1000.
What I should do is start bringing my own containers to restaurants. "Here, just put it in this nice glass container. And look! I have my own reusable grocery sack to carry it home in. NO! I don't need napkins or forks, thanks." Why not? I'm already that crazy lady who brings reusable bags to every store I ever visit. In fact, there are two stores in my neighborhood that don't supply bags at all anymore. You have to remember to bring your own. Wouldn't I love to see more restaurants follow their lead.
Or, maybe I'll just stop going out to eat altogether.
Image via tsuacctnt/Flickr