The UnGreen: Take-Out

In case I’ve led some of you to believe that I am the epitome of eco perfection, I’d like to set you straight. While it is my goal, it is not a reality. I wish I could just *bleep* my eco blunders from my life. But I can’t. Nobody, not even No Impact Man, can be perfectly green.

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” This quote from Theodore Roosevelt–our first conservationist president–is a touchstone for me. I reach for it anytime I find myself in a situation where I can’t live up to my own earth-friendly expectations.

Before the New Year, I’d like to confess a handful of eco mishaps–bloopers, if you will–in an effort to free myself of the haunting guilt. And, who knows, maybe I’ll even inspire others who may be intimidated by the concept of “green” living and/or think it’s an all-or-nothing way of life. I’ll start with take-out…

The local Thai restaurant knows us by name (prior to my husband’s layoff just over a year ago, take-out Thai was a weekly routine). It will come as no surprise that each take-out meal is packed into individual plastic containers–styrofoam (double-cringe) for the appetizers, which they insist on including free (we are very grateful for their generosity)– then loaded up in a plastic bag fully equipped with utensils and napkins. Where do they think we’re taking this? Some deserted road where utensils and napkins can’t be found for miles? It’s not their fault–it is the take-out tradition.

Over time, these very kind people learned that a “Hass” order meant no rice (fewer containers–I don’t mind making rice at home… whole grain, of course), no utensils, no napkins and absolutely no plastic bag. Certainly less impactful; HOWEVER, the plastic containers make me feel as though I’m committing eco-sacrilege. At least the containers our Thai restaurant use are recyclable, but wasteful all the same. And what if they leach the hormone-disrupting plastic chemical bpa into our food? Multiply our take-out by the millions of orders that probably occur in a day, and you’ve got quite a heap of plastic, much of which is not recyclable. And if it is recyclable, there’s no guarantee it’s tossed into the recycle bin.

Each time I picked up the order, I vowed to myself–and affirmed to my husband and son–that I would bring our own glass food storage containers for them to use. It took a while for me to finally remember to put in this special request which was, I think, a first for the restaurant. Quite possibly, it was the most ridiculous request they’d ever heard. I had to repeat myself several times before they got it. “I’ll come before it’s ready,” I explained. “Uh, okay… come in twenty minutes,” was their response as I imagined them pouring the contents out of their plastic containers into our reusables back in the kitchen, giving the cooks a “don’t ask” look.

I struggled to get into and out of the car with four glass containers–all different sizes–only to find the order ready-to-go, stapled shut in a paper bag, upon my arrival.

The last time I remembered to make this special request, the same thing happened. I suggested they just hold on to the containers for next time, but they didn’t think that was a good idea. “What if we lose them?”

Then there’s the drive-thru ice cream place. While my husband and son prefer a shake or root beer float (plastic cup and straw alert!) I’m a cone-kind-of-gal. But even the cone comes standard with a plastic spoon. I got into the habit of requesting no spoons, napkins or straws (we have reusable glass straws) when, suddenly, they presented my cone in a plastic cone holder/drip collector. An upgrade from the previous paper cone sleeve. I’m convinced the cone manufacturer came up with this novel idea as an additional revenue stream, possibly even creating the need by making waffle cones with holes at the bottom. You can’t even imagine the response I got the next visit when I said, “Hold the cone drip whatchamacallit.” Hesitation. Then, “But it comes with it.” “I don’t want it.” “O-kay-ay,” the girl said in a you-are-crazy-lady tone. Of course, it dripped out of the bottom of the cone as promised.

The last time we went, I forgot to request the no drip thing and I was so PO’d at myself. My only excuse: I was tired.

Luckily, both of these joints are within a mile from our home, so the impact isn’t as bad as it could be. When I drive-thru, I shut off the motor while waiting for the order (my husband has not caught onto that one yet). Ahhh. I feel a little better now. One more quick confession. I took a longer than needed toasty shower today. I was cold, what can I say? The good news is, it was my first shower since Saturday. I don’t shower that often.

Interested and humbling Theodore Roosevelt trivia: According to the National Geographic, the area of the United States placed under public protection by Theodore Roosevelt, as National Parks, National Forests, game and bird preserves, and other federal reservations, comes to a total of approximately 230,000,000 acres or about 84,000 acres per day!

The Ungreen: to be continued…

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