By Nina Wu
Do you BYOC?
Bring your own container?
For those of us that love to eat out, or get takeout, yet are environmentally conscious of all the waste it creates, it's a dilemma.
A study by the Environmental Protection Agency estimated about a third of some 251 million tons of municipal solid waste in the U.S. can be attributed to food containers and packaging.
So I admit that I get takeout quite a bit — for lunch, Monday through Friday. I've aspired to bring my own, healthy and homemade lunch to work, but it just hasn't happened.
So what can we do about it?
For starters, I usually skip the plastic bag if possible. If I'm getting takeout and planning to eat right away, then I don't need the bag. I'm glad to see that some food vendors already do this — Pa‘ina Cafe, for instance, asks if you want a bag. Sandwiches can be wrapped in paper. Clamshells, another source of plastic and polystyrene waste — are self-contained, already, and don't require a bag.
So what about BYOC - bringing your own container?
I tried it at a few lunchwagons at Eat The Street last month, and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was. One vendor piled the chow mein noodle order into my glass container without much ado. Another vendor smiled, as she put her plate lunch offerings in the container, and thanked me. She thought it was a great idea.
The downside is that because I prefer glass containers to plastic, they tend to be heavy to carry around. The upside is that whatever you bring home is easy to reheat in the microwave.
Here’s the rub, though. It turns out that the state Department of Health does not allow restaurants to serve food in a customers’ owner container, based on its interpretation of Hawaii Administrative Rules 11-50-32(p)(1), which refers to a “take-home container returned to a food establishment.”
The law is confusing because it sounds as if the rule refers to a customer bringing a take-home container back to the restaurant as opposed to bringing tupperware from home.
However, the health department says it is okay for a customer to pack their own leftovers in a reusable container after a meal at a restaurant. I think I'm going to do that from now on.
It is also acceptable to bring your own cup for beverages. Starbucks, for example, will pour a latte into a customers’ own cup and give you a 10-cent discount every time you do. I'm already a regular BYOCer there — by the way, besides the steel reusable cups that Starbucks sells, I'm a fan of Hydroflasks, which really keep your iced lattes COLD.
Also, it's perfectly acceptable to BYOC (bring your own chopsticks) plus utensils. There are lovely eco-hashi chopsticks wrapped in beautiful fabric that you can take around with you, or bamboo utensils or camping gear. But if you don't want to go out and purchase anything, you can simply reach into your drawer and carry a pair of chopsticks, or a fork, or a spoon, around with you.
So who actually cares enough to do this? I’m thinking it’s a small minority, but found three other in my circle of acquaintances.
>> Amanda Corby Noguchi, wife of Chef Mark “Gooch” Noguchi and co-founder of Pili Group, brings her own pair of wooden chopsticks and a wooden spork (combination of spoon and fork) in her purse wherever she goes. She uses them both for herself and one-year-old daughter, Elee.
>> Publicist Lacy Matsumoto, owner of Urban Pacific Communications, has been bringing her own food containers to take leftovers home for about three years. When in a bind, she’ll opt for restaurants that use biodegradable containers. She swore off straws after seeing so many pieces of them strewn along the shoreline at a beach cleanup. “At the end of the day, I know I’ve reduced my waste in some way,” she said.
>> Microplastics artist Shannon McCarthy says it’s easy to BYOC. She makes most of her meals at home in a Mason jar, but will also bring one with her for takeout. She also carries a pair of chopsticks with her, as well as a multiple-use camping gear tool equipped with knife, fork and spoon. Mason jars work well for soups, salads, and beverages.