Do you usually trash your disposable containers and cutlery after a takeout meal? You don’t need to. With a little pre-planning and some innovative options on the market, you can enjoy your meal and opt to eat, share, or reuse the packaging instead!
Plastic is an easy-to-use and convenient option, but single-use plasticware adds unnecessarily to the earth’s growing problems.
On average, 300 million tons of plastic are produced globally each year, half of which is for disposable uses. Manufacturing plastics requires fossil fuels, and, unlike organic materials such as wood and paper, it doesn’t biodegrade (with the exception of a miniscule share of bioplastics designed to be composted—and even those have problems). Some chemicals added to plastics are absorbed by the human body, creating a slew of possible health problems. Plus, more than 180 species of birds, marine mammals, and other animals have been documented as having ingested plastic debris.
It’s time to rethink our plastic habit. With ingenious designs, global citizens are providing more sustainable options by transforming the way we eat. Not ready to innovate? Luckily, the best solutions may already be sitting in your kitchen. Here are three solutions to rethink the way you eat on the go:
Making the Disposable Edible
Despite our best intentions to recycle or properly dispose of plastics, a shocking 32 percent of plastic packaging never makes it to formal collection systems, instead entering the environment and overwhelming our oceans and city infrastructure. The plastic that does reach landfills only adds to the massive (and overflowing) landfill problem. What can we do? Some designers are offering tasty alternatives to plastic packaging.
Narayana Peesapaty of Hyderabad, India, decided to provide an alternative to disposable plastic cutlery and bamboo chopsticks. The groundwater researcher and agricultural consultant has joined the cutlery movement to turn “disposable” into “edible.” In 2011, he incorporated Bakey, a company that makes spoons from different types of flour (millets, rice, and wheat). The baked cutlery can easily be eaten or tossed to decompose. With a three-year shelf-life, this palm-sized wonder comes in many sweet and savory flavors.
Peesapaty’s spoons, he says, are tasty, fun, nutritious, and, above all, environmentally friendly. By procuring raw materials directly from farmers and achieving greater economies of scale, Peesapaty is confident that the price point for the cutlery competitive with ordinary disposable plastic options. Today, 100 edible spoons retail for a little over $3.
What about the plastic waste from buying yogurt at the store?
Stonyfield, an organic yogurt maker, is introducing Frozen Yogurt Pearls, balls of frozen yogurt that are encased in a natural edible skin. Stonyfield is working with retailers to design a way to sell this unique product in bulk without the need for plastic wrapping.
Italy-based architect and designer Kostantia Manthou has created another type of edible food container, Kira, that represents an ecological approach to transporting food. The edible take-out boxes, made of bread, not only eliminate the plastic box, but also avoid the need for utensils since the vessel cover can be broken into triangles and used for scooping. This approach also propagates food sharing, which has a deep cultural significance. The most common use of these containers is for outdoor meals, picnics, and lunch breaks. When stacked, they form an edible bread tower that can be conveniently wrapped and transported.
Making the Disposable Shareable
Contrary to popular belief, most to-go coffee cups are not recyclable. In the United Kingdom, less than 1 percent of takeaway coffee cups get recycled. That’s because paper coffee cups contain a thin plastic lining that is too expensive to remove. Equally problematic are styrofoam cups that are difficult to recycle because of the low demand for their recycled material. Add in the waste from the plastic cup lids, and every to-go beverage leaves a lasting mark on the environment. Luckily, innovators are looking to the “sharing economy” to keep environmental costs low while maintaining to-go convenience.
The Good To Go pilot program, a project of the DO-school team in collaboration with the Brooklyn Roasting Company, has created a system where customers can use reusable ceramic coffee cups for beverages to go. People who bring back the Good To Go cups, which are then sterilized for the next customer, get a 25 cent discount on their next drink. As an added incentive, the DO-school team is working on introducing a fast lane for customers who use the cups.
In another initiative, New York’s Vessel offers stainless steel to-go mugs to help reach NYC’s Zero Waste 2030 targets. Vessel works like a free library where customers can sign up and get their drinks in Vessel cups instead of the usual plastic and paper versions. After use, the cups can be returned to a designated bin at a participating café for cleaning and reuse.
Avoiding Single-Use Products Altogether
While this solution may be the least thrilling, it’s still your best bet. Instead of using disposables, bring your own reusable cutlery, boxes, and mugs. Start by replacing plastics in places where you eat often—at your office, school, or food court. Bring your own reusable items when you step out on your coffee or lunch break and encourage your coworkers to do the same Carry a reusable cutlery set in your bag or purse and make this an everyday habit, like bringing your wallet or phone.
It may take time to incorporate this practice into your daily routine, but once the habit is formed, it will have a long-lasting benefit. Imagine the heaps of plastic trash you can help avoid!
Making a Difference
The need to reduce plastic pollution is undeniable. As much as possible, try to use less plastic and other single-use materials to prevent waste and the depletion of the earth’s natural resources.
Be aware of your plastic footprint and support brands or products that incorporate sustainable practices. Global purveyors of to-go foods and beverages, such as Starbucks, respond to the demands of their customers, so make your product choices clear by voting with your dollars and speaking up.
The next time you grab a coffee or eat out, voice your preference for eco-friendly takeout containers, avoiding styrofoam and plastic, and encourage the coffee shop or restaurant to join a cup-share program or to offer reusable products. If you didn’t bring a container for leftovers, use paper napkins or ask for foil rather than using disposable plastic.
Let’s make the most of edible, shareable, and reusable containers and cutlery. Individual efforts can make all the difference. Together, we can create demand for sustainable solutions.
Kainaz Pardiwalla is a communications intern at the Worldwatch Institute.