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How to Reduce Waste When Eating Out

Australian Beach
Australia deserves to be kept beautiful

I've been exploring ways to produce less waste while traveling. Why, you might ask?

Well – have you ever wandered down the street of a foreign city (or your own) and felt disgusted by the amount of trash left lying on the sidewalk?

Have you strolled down a beautiful beach, only to pick your way around various plastic bottles and candy wrappers that have washed up upon the shores?

I have, and I wouldn't say I like it.

One of the easiest ways to produce less waste is to swap single-use, disposable items for products that you can easily take with you when out and about or on the road to use again and again.

With that in mind, let's look at one particular area that produces a ton of trash and waste – food.

1. Bring Eating Utensils

Plastic utensils are, in my opinion, one of the most unnecessary items on the planet. You use them once, and then it's in the bin and off to landfill they go, to rot for all eternity.

It's not hard nor inconvenient to carry around your own set of utensils, which you can use again and again.

I've found a spork to be a valuable item to take when traveling, particularly if I bring a carry-on bag through airport security.

(I have been questioned once, but they sent me on my way with a smile when they realized it was harmless!)

Also, when flying long haul, they will make an excellent addition to your zero waste travel kit.

If you eat massive amounts of Japanese takeaway like myself, it might be worth investing in a set of chopsticks as well.

produce less waste
Reusable napkin and an indispensable spork

2. Carry a Napkin or Handkerchief

Refuse the paper napkins you're offered when eating out and use your own to wipe food away instead.

Napkins can also be used instead of plastic and paper to wrap around food items such as sandwiches, subs, and hot dogs.

An alternative and far more handy resource is a hankie (or handkerchief), which had many uses back in the day, before the advent of disposable tissues.

Dapper gentlemen often used to carry them around to not only attend to nose issues but also wipe their hands clean from food (and offer them to any damsel in distress they may encounter throughout their day's activities).

I'm pretty mad about TSHU's handkerchiefs, which are pretty and practical. They even have one that's made out of organic cotton.

3. Use Your Own Containers and Bags

When you're ordering out, your food will often be presented to you in single-use containers that you'll discard shortly after eating.

If you know you're going to be eating on the go, you can pre-empt this by bringing along a reusable container or a sandwich bag.

When ordering, hand your container to the staff and ask them if they can put your food in it, rather than their own packaging. In most cases, I found people to be more than happy and willing to oblige.

4. Provide Your Own Cup

Big coffee drinker? I don't drink the stuff myself, but I've seen friends go through up to four cups of day, using a disposable cup each time they make an order.

If you're a big coffee (or tea!) drinker, consider bringing your own cup along with you the next time you get a beverage on the go.

Find a secondhand mason jar that you can adapt with a few tweaks, or invest in a reusable coffee cup of your own.

I use KeepCup, an Australian brand, and I think it's good to support local companies.

However, there are plenty of other options out there, which can probably be found in your local coffee or tea shop.

Along with hot beverages, use your cup for juices, smoothies, or even instead of plastic cups on public transport.

My beloved KeepCup.

5. Be Imaginative with Your Leftovers

If you're out eating and find yourself in the position where you're rapidly filling up, don't just abandon the food left on your plate.

Consumers across industrialized countries waste 220 million tons of food a year.

One way to combat this is to order smaller portions – a cup instead of a bowl of soup or a main without a starter.

If you find you can't finish all that is set down in front of you, ask for a doggy bag, and don't be afraid to bring your own container to ask restaurant staff to fill for you.

An equally effective way of getting rid of food waste is to compost it.

If you're lucky enough to have a backyard, consider investing in an outdoor compost bin – you'll be astounded by the list of items you can put in it.

Live in an apartment? No worries. Worm farms are pretty easy to put together, shouldn't release any offending odors, and can be kept on a shelf or under the kitchen sink.

If you're traveling or not keen on the idea of having a compost bin in your abode, never fear. Lots of cities have their own composting programs.

Community gardens are also a good option for depositing food waste, as many boast worm farms or compost bins.

These are just a few of the methods you can undertake to begin to produce less waste when traveling.

All it takes is some forward-thinking, preparation, and a little research to start doing your bit to help out the environment.

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:

Maria Bailey

Wednesday 3rd of February 2016

These are very helpful advises. I'm trying to teach my kids how important it is to reduce our food waste and it's meaning to the people and environment. Eating outside is one of their favorite things, especially during the summer when we travel very often. Your post gave me some more good ideas to keep things happen properly. Thank you for sharing these ideas!

Tim Coulter

Friday 8th of January 2016

I absolutely agree - it's heartbreaking to see a beautiful landscape spoiled by other peoples' litter. Your ideas are imaginative and I congratulate you for tackling this topic, but I wonder if it's more a problem of mentality than a lack of practical solutions.

I live in Turkey, where you can find some of the most spectacular and varied landscapes anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, at the edge of every major road (thousands of miles of road connecting over 1,000 towns and cities), you will find rubbish that has been thrown from the windows of passing cars. In some places, the build-up of waste is so bad that you might wonder whether there has been an accident involving a garbage truck.

When I ask the locals why they allow their country to be spoiled in this way, they mostly blame tourists - the 38 million of them that visit Turkey each year. However, the vast majority of tourists travel intercity by plane or bus, neither of which have windows that allow stuff to be thrown out of. So the real cause of all the litter remains unproven.

Although your ideas are a great step in the right direction, I also think we need to persuade the ignorant masses (whoever they are) that we need to take more care of our environment.

LC Haughey

Friday 8th of January 2016

Hi Tim. I agree with you 100%, mentality has a lot to do with it. I've recently undertaken a project to go plastic-free over the course of this year - it's not an easy task to take on, particularly as the use of plastic is so ingrained in our day to day lives (which really frustrates me, as so much of it is unnecessary. Do you really need a plastic straw with your glass of water? Probably not).

So far, I've been pretty frustrated by my mission. I live in England - a country that looks like a national park, but gets regularly dumped upon by tourists and residents alike. People don't really understand why I'm doing what I'm doing and I'll be the first to admit that I've already begun questioning whether or not it's worth the bother, when no one else around me seems to give a damn or care.

But - I'm going to keep cracking on with my project and writing about it. I think it's beginning to become evident that the planet is buckling under the weight of our waste and when if we do reach the point of no return (if we haven't already), I'd like to be able to say I did my bit to try and avoid it.

Collectively, we can't really point the finger and blame others. We're all responsible for our waste. If these types of articles can deter even one person from taking an unnecessary plastic bag, or inspire them to carry around their own coffee cup - it's a victory, albeit small and maybe even a step forward in the right direction.

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Thursday 31st of December 2015

Very superb and such a nice article thanks for sharing this post.

LC Haughey

Thursday 31st of December 2015

Thank you!

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