The Downside of Takeout

Trash Can, full of disposable packaging

Ours is usually a 'half-full trash bin' sort of family. Some of our neighbors roll out an overflowing trash bin each week while our bin usually holds one small bag. Our full recycling bins and compost account for some reduction in our trash output. I try to avoid excess packaging and waste, but we definitely aren't a zero-waste family. Our trash bag filled quickly this week when we ordered takeout food that was packaged in unrecyclable styrofoam clamshells. So, how hard would it be to eliminate all of our household 'trash'?

As we've all heard, the 'Three R's' of waste are Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. My family recycles as much as our town will take (more about recycling later). We reuse items as long as they last and have donated many things we no longer need. The first and probably most important 'R' is Reduce. We buy many grocery staples in bulk to reduce cost and packaging. But, after one takeout meal I am beginning to see how difficult reducing our waste to nothing will be.

What's the big problem with trash?

Trash literally embodies the natural resources and energy wasted in the production, transportation and packaging of the goods we actually use. The material left over from anything you buy which can't be reused or recycled takes up finite space in a landfill. Our tasty takeout meal of gyros, falafel and spanakopita came in one-use styrofoam clamshell containers. Those clamshells are cheap to buy and use, but they become expensive as they fill up landfill space. GO Box in Portland could have a solution with reusable containers made from more durable type 5 polypropylene.

I'm looking at what 'disposable' stuff we can reduce from our life. The list I've compiled so far includes:

  • Coffee Cups - Easy, use a travel mug instead
  • Plastic Produce Bags - Easy, switch to cloth fruit and veggie bags
  • Razor Blades - Tricky, buy and learn to use a straight razor
  • Kleenex - Sticky, I can switch to handkerchiefs
  • Paper Towels - Easy, increase our use of cloth towels
  • Disposable Diapers - we are switching to washable diapers very soon
  • To-go Containers - Should I take my own containers or do I eliminate takeout?

Some of these trash-reduction changes will be easy. We already use cloth kitchen towels, so reducing paper towel use isn't hard. Eliminating razor blades could be trickier. I've started looking for a straight razor and I will have to learn how to shave with a bare blade. Recently our trash has grown to include disposable diapers, but we'll switch over to washable soon (yes, there is an ongoing debate about disposable vs. washable). I'm going to experiment with bringing my own containers next time we order a takeout meal.

Zero waste, like a net-zero carbon footprint, is an ideal. It will be difficult to get to zero waste, but no one said sustainability was easy.

More Info:

Sunset: The zero-waste home

Zero Waste

Zero Waste Alliance

Waste Minimisation

GO Box