The Importance of Sustainable Takeout


It’s an understatement to say that America’s plastic problem has reached worrying levels. In fact, it’s gotten so terrible that we’ve started naming the garbage patches in our oceans, formed by the debris, microplastics, and the litter of human activity.

A major contributor to the destruction of the environment is the $83.92 billion US chain restaurant industry with its plastic takeout boxes, disposable utensils, and single-use bags. Likewise, the coffee industry is also a big contributing factor. This rapidly growing sector reels in $50.7 billion each year. And with many new entrepreneurs jockeying to grab a slice of that pie, more waste – disposable cups, straws, stirrers, and tiny packets of sugar and cream – is being produced.

To address the plastic pollution problem, America has started edging towards environmentally sustainable consumption over the past few years. Though no comprehensive federal laws have been passed to reduce plastic packaging production, several states have started banning single-use plastic bags. Coffee shops too, have been allowing customers to bring travel mugs and reusable cups for their drinks.

But any progress we might have made thus far was erased when the pandemic happened. Due to the threat of Covid-19, restaurants have brought back plastic takeout containers and plastic cutlery. Groceries too, have started discouraging the use of reusable bags for fear of spreading the virus. And can we blame them? Business owners don’t really have the time to think about eco-friendly packaging amidst the pandemic as they try to keep their livelihoods afloat.

Once again, the issue here boils down to sustainability versus cost and convenience. This conversation about eco-friendly consumption has been a long and grueling one, spanning decades. Thankfully, educational efforts and awareness campaigns on plastic pollution, climate change, and global warming seem to have borne fruit, from a consumer standpoint at least.

According to The Pew Research Center, roughly 64% of US adults consider environmental protection as a top priority to be addressed by government legislators. Similarly, 63% of Americans say stricter environmental regulations are well worth the expenses they might incur.

With all that said, what can we as consumers do to help save our plastic-ridden planet while we wait out the current health crisis?

For one, you can opt-out of using plastic utensils when ordering take-out or picking up your food. Make sure you inform the restaurant ahead of time so they don’t pack them with your takeaway. You can also ask the restaurant to forego adding menu handouts when they deliver and read the menu online instead. These solutions are short-term and really simple, but they can add up if enough people do them.

As more consumers commit to eco-friendly solutions, the same should be demanded of the billion-dollar industries that produce plastic waste in the first place. Collective action is incredibly powerful, but a problem as deeply entrenched and systemic as environmental pollution can’t be solved by simply switching to metal straws.

The burden of healing the Earth shouldn’t fall on the shoulders of ordinary individuals alone. The takeout industry must adjust too, despite the heftier costs a sustainable business may entail. This shift to eco-friendly practices, after all, is a huge bargain compared to the price of our planet’s destruction.

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By: Jinky Brecker

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