Be prepared (see Supplies list below). This is the most important tip! Are you noticing a trend? Sustainability takes planning and creating new habits.
Communicate directly and be upfront. Restaurants are used to handing out disposables without customers asking for it. Be ready to kindly refuse it.
Be aware that some places don’t use all reusable utensils and dishware, even for dine-in. It helps to be prepared so you don’t get stuck having to use disposables.
Beware of "compostable" disposables Some places are starting to use bioplastics / green plastics / compostable cups and utensils. These sound great, and I’m sure the restaurants have great intentions, but unfortunately the producers of these products are doing some greenwashing. I learned this while touring a recycle sorting facility. While these products can theoretically be composted at some industrial composting facilities (read: not your backyard), they often don’t get composted. Sometimes people put them in the plastic recycling, which contaminates the lot of plastic that’s being recycled (which sends that lot to the landfill). Because of that risk, workers pull out these compostable cups whenever they can (although the line moves very quickly) and they get trashed. Meanwhile, at the composting places, the bioplastics get pulled out because they’re mistaken for plastic. So, the system isn’t really set up to handle bioplastics and they often end up doing more damage. It’s really a shame. Hopefully someone will come up with a solution, but the safe bet for now is reusables. Even at their best, bioplastics are resource intensive.
Bring your travel cup or ask for a mug Disposable coffee cups are not recyclable. No part of them is recyclable. The paper cup part is often coated in plastic to make it leak proof. This makes it unacceptable for paper recycling. The lid is a type of plastic that isn’t recyclable. It all goes straight to landfill. This is one of the more troubling facts I’ve learned this year, considering how many of these cups are used for only about 15 minutes of use. The lids will be around for hundreds of years to come, leaching their plastic chemicals into the soil.
Utensils: Roll up utensils in a cloth napkin and keep it in your purse/bag when you leave the house
Travel cup: Sometimes I use a mason jar with a silicone sleeve (for gripping and for hot liquids)
Reusable straw: They’re sold in glass, metal, and bamboo. Glass is my favorite since its see-through and you can be sure it’s cleaned out well. You’ll also want a straw brush. Be sure to wash out the straws quickly after use, so food doesn’t dry up in it. Plastic straws aren’t recyclable and they disrupt sea life (you may have seen the video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose).
Containers: If you’re heading out for a meal, bring your own takeout containers. I try to keep mason jars in the trunk of my car.
Advocate for a reusable foodware ordinance in your city
The city of Berkeley, CA adopted a landmark ordinance in January 2019 that focuses on reducing waste and limiting single-use plastic. It can be used to guide other cities to adopt similar legislation.
Starting January 2020:
Disposable foodware must be BPI Certified Compostable.
Food vendors can seek waivers to use recyclable alternatives if they are unable to source the ideal foodware.
Food vendors will show a charge of $0.25 for disposable hot and cold cups, and it must be visible to customers on menus, signs, and receipts.
Starting July 2020:
For dine-in, food vendors must use reusable foodware for eating-in, such as ceramic plates and metal forks.
Food vendors may do their own dishwashing on-site or contract with a service for off-site cleaning.
Technical assistance and mini-grants will be available to assist food vendors in this transition. Also, hardship waivers can be requested.