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Takeout Food with Zero Waste

By Kim Robson:

Bringing home takeout food from my favorite restaurants is one of my guilty pleasures. I can enjoy my meal in the comfort and privacy of my own home, wearing pajamas and fuzzy slippers if I like.I bask in the knowledge that I didn’t have to lift a finger to prepare it, and I won’t have to do dishes, either. But that’s where the guilty part comes in: all that waste. There are Styrofoam or plastic containers (even cardboard containers are unrecyclable due to the thin plastic moisture lining on the interior), plastic forks and knives in their own plastic wrappers, disposable chopsticks, plastic lids, plastic straws, tinfoil or paper wrappers, condiment packets, sauce tubs, a stack of paper napkins, plus takeout menus / coupons / printed receipt, brown paper bags, and a plastic bag to carry it all in. It’s depressing and difficult or impossible to recycle.

But with a little extra planning, there is no reason you can’t have your favorite takeout minus the waste and guilt by bringing your own containers to the restaurant. There is no part of the U.S. health code that requires takeout food to be in disposable containers or that personal containers from home are not allowed.

First, call the restaurant ahead to make sure it’ll be okay to get your order filled using your own containers. If the waitstaff says no, you can ask for a manager; but be polite, no matter what the answer is. You can always try again later. Being a regular customer and good tipper never hurts.

If you’re nervous about asking for an unusual request, pretend you do this ALL the time. Exude the confidence that this is a totally normal thing and doesn’t even need to be questioned. For instance, instead of hesitantly asking, “Is it okay if we use this container?” tell them without equivocation, “I’d like my order to go into this container.”


  • Be polite and smile; compliment their food.
  • Thank the waitstaff profusely for accommodating your request.
  • Bring spotlessly CLEAN containers with tightly fitting lids.
  • Tip a little over normal.
  • Walk or bike to and from the restaurant, if possible, for zero carbon footprint.
  • Coffee shops and juice bars are also well-accustomed to filling personal containers.
  • A set of tiffins is stackable and easy to transport, and keeps different foods separated.
  • Mason jars are great for soups, smoothies, sauces and other liquids.

About Kim Robson

Kim Robson lives and works with her husband in the Cuyamaca Mountains an hour east of San Diego. She enjoys reading, writing, hiking, cooking, and animals. She has written a blog since 2006 at kimkiminy.wordpress.com. Her interests include the environment, dark skies, astronomy and physics, geology and rock collecting, living simply and cleanly, wilderness and wildlife conservation, and eating locally.

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