Cost Reductionfood wasteOperationssustainability

The To-Go Container Query Perplexing Us All

Maybe this should be the norm.

A few months ago, I taught a children’s cooking class at a Family Activity Center in Berlin (Germany). After we had cooked and eaten, I left the table to start the cleanup. A student approached me with a plastic container and asked if she could take some of the extra home. Out of the norm for me, I asked the director of the program what I should do. She said it was absolutely normal that children would bring containers to a food event and take the extras home. What a great idea – no waste, and no need for the center to provide the takeaway container.

The right mindset is there, but it is not a perfect answer.

Many restaurants and to-go establishments have switched to cardboard containers, but these have drawbacks too. Some are uncoated and they leak, others, like to go cups from our favorite coffee shops, are actually coated with a thin layer of plastic and do not biodegrade easily, hence are not really any better than a plastic container. People do bring their own coffee cups to coffee shops, so it is not out of the question to think about bringing our own containers for other types of food at some point.

From the aglet* that keeps your shoelaces from fraying to the innumerable plastic parts on the car you drive, plastic is so entrenched in our lives that there is no way it is all going away. What is going away are the one time use pieces we have come to depend upon in the restaurant industry. Affectionately known as a “doggie bag,” as it was once a real bag and probably contained a steak bone going home to Fido, somewhere along the line it morphed into a to-go or takeaway plastic receptacle. Plastic could contain the liquid and the grease, hence a clean mode of transporting the extra bit home.

But the plastic binge did not end there.

Forks, straws, cups, lids, bottles, plates. The list grew exponentially. Way too far into the situation, as humans are apt to do, we realized we had an impending disaster on our hands. Sea animals entangled with plastic grocery bags, animals who had consumed mass quantities of tossed plastic were splattered across the pages of newspapers and magazines. We were now aware that we had to address the impending doom.

A recent dinner companion and I spoke at length about this issue as we looked at the waxed paper straws unraveling in our mason jar water glasses. There must be a happy medium between the soggy straw and our addiction to plastic, we lamented. My mother used to carry a container with her, said my friend. Wow, ahead of her time, I replied. We laughed. And then we looked up at one another, in the end you really do become your mother, we said simultaneously.

*In case you are still wondering, an aglet is the plastic thing at the end of a lace that keeps it from fraying and allows you to get it easily into the eyelet on the shoe.


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