When my husband and I first started dating, we went out to eat a lot. It was 2007, we both had good jobs with great bennies, and we hadn’t yet started spawning babies.
Ah, the good ol’ days of pre-Recession disposable income…
Life sure looks different now.
Thinking back on those days when we were wild and free, I remember the night we overdosed on spicy green curry at my favorite Thai restaurant.
It was the first time Andrew pulled the ol’ DIY Doggie Bag trick on me.
Our perky waitress had strolled by, noticing either that we’d put our chopsticks down or that we were both making the I’m-so-stuffed-I-could-puke face, or both.
“Can I box anything up for you guys?” she asked, motioning toward our half-devoured curry bowls and the remaining spring rolls we couldn’t manage to jam down our throats.
“Sure—“ I started to say, but Andrew interrupted.
“Nope,” he blurted, “I got this.” And he wagged his eyebrows at the waitress with a proud grin.
As though this had been the moment we’d all been waiting for, Andrew dramatically unearthed a worn canvas bag he’d brought along from underneath the table.
From that canvas bag, he revealed a stack of plastic containers in various shapes and sizes, along with their requisite lids. Ones he’d brought from home. Recycled hummus tubs. Those pink-lidded rectangle Ziploc containers you get lunch meat in. There was even a Mason jar in there (in case we’d had any leftover Tom Yum soup, I would find out later).
In that moment, I was horrified. Embarrassed as a twelve-year-old whose dad just showed up at the school dance wearing a top hat and doing an Irish jig.
“Sooo,” said the waitress, furrowing a brow, “you guys…brought your own?”
Andrew laughed. “Yeah. Is that weird?”
Then he picked up his bowl and started scraping his leftovers into one of the pink-lidded containers.
The mouths of diners seated at nearby tables visibly fell open as they stared at him.
After a beat, the waitress said, “Actually, I don’t think it’s weird at all! That’s really smart. Everyone should bring their own containers! I’ll be back with your check.” And she scurried away.
“Honey?” Andrew said, interrupting the swirling thoughts of confused humiliation the twelve-year-old inside me was still experiencing. “Your bowl, please?”
Wordlessly, I handed him my curry. He poured my leftovers into one of the old hummus tubs, fastened its lid on tight, then got to work packing up the rice and the spring rolls.
It was all so freakin' weird to me back then, but now in 2018, bringing containers to restaurants is totally normal. Over time, I’ve actually grown to love the idea.
I gotta admit, I get a real kick out of shocking other diners and wait staff with this revolutionary act of environmental kindness.
Every single time we whip out the stack of reused boxes, they smile and say something like, “What a great idea!”
300 billion tons of plastic is produced every year, and 91 percent of it DOESN’T get recycled.
That’s shameful. Since it takes 450 years to decompose, virtually every plastic bottle that’s ever been produced since the shit was invented still exists on this planet somewhere.
By bringing your own containers to restaurants, you’re breathing new life into a perfectly decent product that was meant for long-term storage. And you’re keeping the demand for plastic production down. Plastic containers are made from irreplaceable fossil fuels like natural gas, oil and coal. Why deplete more of them when you know darned well your kitchen cupboards are full of perfectly reusable plastic containers?
To figure out which ones are best for toting leftovers around in, it’s useful to know what type of plastic your containers are. Start by looking on the bottoms of them to find out what number is showing inside that little triangle recycling symbol. Then, to learn what in God’s name those numbers even mean and which are safest for food, check out this article from LifeWithoutPlastics.com. #5’s seem to be your best bet.
And remember, you’ll want to avoid reusing any that contain BPA because of proven health risks. If you want to be über certain no chemicals are leeching into your leftover greasy fries, choose glass containers like Pyrex or even an old marinara jar—Lord knows we all amass those like mad, too.
Just be sure to do a spill-proof test on ‘em first.
Either way, rest easy knowing you definitely won’t be taking home Styrofoam, which anyone who’s been awake during the otts knows is made of a toxic chemical called styrene that has been linked to cancer, vision and hearing loss, impaired memory and concentration, and nervous system effects, according to Safer Chemicals Healthy Families.
Once you get used to pulling the ol’ DIY Doggie Bag trick, take it up a notch like my husband does.
Andrew brings his own containers—sometimes even a glass plate—when ordering from food trucks. And when picking up takeout, he makes a valiant effort to get to the restaurant fast, arriving before the food gets boxed up so he can intervene with his own containers and even participate in the process.
The dude even brings silverware and cloth napkins to picnics, for crying out loud.
Just think what the world would be like if everyone did what Andrew does!
I hope you’ll try the DIY Doggie Bag the next time you go out to eat, and if you do, be sure and let me know how it goes in the comments section below!
I'm Janeen; writer, mother, wife, and full-time, radical Reductionist. I share stupid-easy tips on how to save money while reducing your impact on the environment, & I'm committed to helping others live a life of simple sustainability.