Takeout creates a lot of trash. It doesn’t have to.

Takeout creates a lot of trash. It doesn’t have to.

September 19, 2019 10 By Stanley Isaacs


Who doesn’t love takeout food? It’s convenient. Easy. Most of the time, it’s delicious. But with every order, there’s just a lot
of stuff that comes with the meal. Look, here’s what I got when I ordered Thai. This is from my breakfast this morning. And this is all the stuff you get with one
of those meal delivery kits. Some of it, you can recycle. Some of it, it’s compostable. But a lot of it…well, I really don’t know. And all this waste — it isn’t just a problem
that we can solve with recycling alone. These little containers and wrappers may not
seem like a big deal, but in the U.S., packaging makes up the largest category of municipal
waste. On top of that, single-use items make up another
10 percent of all our discards. And this kind of mindless consumption has a really
big impact on climate change. Roughly 29 percent of our nation’s greenhouse
gas emissions come from the way we make, consume, and dispose of stuff. That’s more than the emissions that come
from heating our homes or driving around in our cars. It takes a lot of energy and resources to
produce single use items — these things we use only for a few minutes or even a few
seconds before they become trash. And when single-use items go into a landfill,
all that paper and plastic is destroyed — and so we have to go out there and extract new raw materials to replace it. We really need to prioritize reduce and reuse
over recycling. Recycling is great to deal with the product
once it’s already in your hand. You’ve got to make a good decision on where
it goes, but waste minimization is more important. This is Anne Krieghoff — she’s the recycling
manager at the University of California, Irvine. Her goal is to get the campus to zero waste. And there’s some super simple ways that
we can reduce a lot of this single-use trash. Look, have you ever ordered a burger and fries
and inside the bag there are like, a thousand packets of ketchup that you really aren’t
going to use? They may look innocent, but there’s really
no way to recycle them. So, one of the easiest ways to eliminate this
trash is to serve condiments in bulk. Remember the way you used to get a hot dog
at the baseball game, you’d go up to the pump and get your ketchup and your mustard. That is the best way. Think how much you could save with one bulk
ketchup dispenser. Or bulk sugar at the coffee shop. Another way to reduce trash is to just stop
overpackaging things. Here’s a classic example. This is how I got my lunch today. So it’s a plastic bag and inside it is a
paper bag. I mean, what’s the purpose of this? You know, maybe I could have actually just
carried this out without a bag. Or simply put it in my backpack. It would be great if companies started saying,
“We’re not serving the plastic bag unless you ask for it.” Don’t offer it — just wait if somebody
needs that. And that’s really the key. See, a lot of useless trash is created because
companies just kind of hand it to us, assuming that we want it. But a lot of times we don’t. This is something that Seamless and Grubhub,
the food delivery apps, are trying to take on. When you place an order on their website,
they give you the option to skip the utensils and napkins, which you probably don’t need
if they’re actually coming to your home or to your office. In 2013 alone, Seamless reported that they
saved more than a million sets of plastic utensils and napkins — all with a simple
check box. Just having the option to say no makes it
way easier for customers to reduce their trash. And saving those forks and napkins helps restaurants
as well, since ultimately they’re the ones who are paying for them So if step one is reduce, or stop giving people
stuff they don’t need, then step two is reuse. Let’s make it easier for people to switch
to reusable stuff. UC Merced have made the switch to reusable
takeout containers in their dining hall. Reusable is always the way to go, if you think
about it, if you’re reusing this container and you’re getting more uses out of it, although
the cost upfront is larger, in the long run you’re saving a lot of money. Julie Sagusay is the Food Services Manager
and each year, about a third of the meals served at the dining hall are to-go meals. That adds up to about 350,000 single-use containers
that they avoid using every year. When you want a meal to-go, you check out
the container with your student card, like you would a library book — and then when
you’re done, you return it to one of these eight machines around campus. A lot of universities and a few hospitals
have introduced reusable container systems like this. There’s even a company in Portland called
GO Box that works with local restaurants to offer a reusable option for takeout food. And it isn’t just food containers. Reusable water bottles are one of the easiest
ways to cut down on to-go trash. Around the world, people buy a million plastic
bottles each minute and most of them will end up in a landfill or the ocean. It’s so much smarter to just have one bottle. It’s really important that we get away from thinking
of anything as a single-use. From 1987 to 2014, the amount of bottled water
that Americans drink has quadrupled. So we drink more bottled water than milk or
even beer. And during this time, the classic water fountain
we all know and love has pretty much fallen out of favor. That’s partly because people are concerned
about water safety not to mention hygiene, right? Concerns that Anne Perkins here has. Kiss one water fountain drinker and you’re
kissing everyone in Pawnee. Including him. But recently, that drinking fountain — well
it’s got a bit of a facelift. Water bottle filling stations have been popping
up, making it easier to get free, filtered water when you’re on the go. UC Irvine installed 160 of these on campus
and it’s made a big difference. Each year, the campus avoids using roughly
3 million plastic bottles. Our disposable water bottle sales have dropped
over 30% in the last couple of years just by people bring their own water bottle. How can we change our processes little by
little by little each year until they become the way we do things? It isn’t done by just dealing with the trash
at the end. It really is about changing culture. Today, UC Irvine is diverting 80 percent of
their waste from landfills by focusing on reuse, composting, and recycling. Zero waste is a possibility. It’s just never quitting. And cities across the country are trying to
reach that goal too. Achieving zero waste means building more robust
recycling and composting programs. But it also means rethinking all the stuff
in our lives. How do companies package the things they sell us? Can they use a materials that are easier
to recycle? How do we make it easier for people to switch
to reusables? So really take a look at what you’re throwing
away at the end of a meal and pick one thing. Maybe it’s saying no to bags or maybe it’s
carrying around a reusable bottle. It may seem like a trivially small thing,
but it is part of a larger cultural shift. Every plastic cup or plastic straw that doesn’t
need to be made, every tree that doesn’t need to be cut down — all of it helps us
reduce global warming. There’s a lot simple ways to reduce your
trash. Watch my interview with Lauren Singer who
can fit four years worth of trash, no kidding, into a single jar. And check out climate.universityofcalifornia.edu
for other global warming solutions.