Eating Out without The Waste


Originally published on Feb. 22, 2018

Why would you want to forego the straw, or the single use to-go containers? Straws are always plastic, and To-go containers are often plastic, or styrofoam. Because these items are so common, most people assume they are safe for our bodies and perhaps for the environment, but that isn't the case.


Styrofoam is used all of the time for packaging and shipping. You see it at stores and at restaurants, specifically as the to-go box you're handed as you leave. It's lightweight and a good insulator, making it a popular item.

"Environmental health concerns start with the elements used to make Styrofoam. Styrene, for example, is the one of the main ingredients used to make polystyrene.... The International Agency for Research on Cancer had already established styrene as a possible human carcinogen in 2002"

"Though the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report on styrene does not yet classify it as carcinogenic, it lists many occupational hazards for those who are exposed regularly in the manufacture of products made with styrene. Some of the acute health effects experienced include irritation of the skin, eyes, and the upper respiratory tract and gastrointestinal effects." (

Not only is Styrofoam legitimately bad for your body, potentially causing harmful effects to you and also a carcinogen, it's also bad for the earth. 

"Styrofoam is non-biodegradable and appears to last forever. It’s resistant to photolysis, or the breaking down of materials by photons originating from light. This, combined with the fact that Styrofoam floats, means that large amounts of polystyrene have accumulated along coastlines and waterways around the world. It is considered a main component of marine debris." (


You've heard that plastic is bad for the environment, but plastic is really bad for the environment. "Americans discard more than 30 million tons of plastic a year. Only 8 percent gets recycled. The rest ends up in landfills, is burned or becomes litter." And, like styrofoam, it basically never goes away.  "Plastic is a material made to last forever, yet 33 percent of all plastic - water bottles, bags and straws - are used just once and thrown away. Plastic cannot biodegrade.(

Plastic is also, like styrofoam, bad for our bodies. "Chemicals added to plastics are absorbed by human bodies. Some of these compounds have been found to alter hormones or have other potential human health effects." (

Even though only 8 percent of the plastic we use gets recycled, when it is recycled, dangerous greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere.

Styrofoam and Plastic are bad for the environment, and our bodies... Now what?

Should I just never go to another restaurant again? Do I need to start a farm? While starting a farm would be fantastic, and if you do, please let me know; that isn't the only solution.

When you eat out, you can always:

  1. Decline the straw!

  2. Ask for your food "for here," not "to go/take away"

  3. Decline silverware if you notice it wrapped in a paper napkin. If you take out the silverware and place the napkin unused far away from you, they will still throw it in the trash can. It's a health code violation for them to re-use it.

  4. Bring your own tupperware/to-go container for leftovers!

  5. Bring your own bottle/cup if you know they only use plastic cups.

There are some places you may not be able to eat anymore (i.e. Chick Fil A which packages in non-recyclable items even when you eat in the building) but for the most part, you can go to restaurants and enjoy a "normal" dining experience.

Things you want to start carrying with you:

  • Silverware. Whether that is a purchased bamboo set, or just a fork and knife from your house, you'll want this in your purse/bag!

  • Tupperware. You can use what you already own, a plastic tupperware, a glass pyrex or you can opt to purchase something like Onyx metal sets.

  • Napkin. This could be something like unpaper towels, or a dish towel, or a bandana.

  • Straw. You could go without a straw, but if you like using one, there are bamboo and metal straws available.

  • Cups. This could be a mason jar and a coffee cup from home, or a nicer cup like a KeepCup and a Joco.

For all of these things, there are ways to do it affordably (use what you have, add on from Thrift Stores), and there are ways to do it more "aesthetically" if that's your style and you have the expendable income for it.

I am mindful of where my dollars go because of the impact, and want to invest in ethical companies producing products I can use for years to come.

I typically go to a restaurant with a metal straw my best friend bought for me, a bamboo utensil set from Package Free, a stainless steel container from Onyx, a hot cup from Joco, and a cold cup my sister got me for Christmas from Byta, a bandana as my napkin and some confidence.

The only tricky part for me is at the end of the meal when I either quickly shovel my food off the plate into my lap where my tupperware/Onyx is waiting, or I ask the waitress, "Is it okay if I brought my own to-go container?" I have yet to be told no, even when I did this at a nice restaurant.

The biggest tip I can give you is to be prepared. This is why I've put together a "car kit," so that I'm not caught off guard. The additional thought you put in to something like this doesn't negatively impact your experience, it only positively impacts your body and the world around you.


Emily McCollister