Zero Waste Takeout
Zero Waste Lifestyle
September 2, 2016 | Kathryn Kellogg
Last Updated on April 7, 2020
So, I love takeout. Takeout and a movie at home or a basketball game with brews is my kind of evening. I like low key, pajamas, and good food – especially when I’m not cooking.
We make roughly 19-20 out of the 21 meals a week we eat at home. It’s really difficult for us to find time to go out to a restaurant. It’s mostly because of our dog, Nala. When we rescued her, we didn’t know she had separation anxiety. In her one year she had been given up 5 times. We couldn’t possibly let her go after learning that; it’s taken some major adjustments.
We can’t just pick up and leave anytime we want. We have to coordinate with friends to babysit. She comes to work every day. If we go out to eat, we sit outside so she can join. We go to the drive-in movies so she can sit in the backseat. And, if we really, really want to not make dinner our solution is takeout!
Thankfully the restaurants in the area are awesome and totally cool with me bringing/dropping off my own containers. Huge shout out to Simple Thai, Napoli’s, and Picknickys! They are bomb. Napoli’s sells pizza dough too! I just bring a large mixing bowl with a lid. They open the proving drawer and plop it right in.
Also, coffee shops and Jamba Juice have always been accommodating!
I frequent these places often, and they know me. But, it was still really scary the first time I asked if I could drop off my own containers.
So, here are my tips for getting your takeout zero waste!
If it’s a new place, I really like to call ahead. It’s easy to thoroughly explain what and why I’m making an unusual request. In almost a year and a half, I’ve only been told no twice.
avoid rush hour:
If your going to the most popular place in town during peak hours, you’re a lot more likely to be told no or to have something go wrong. The people working the counter are swamped, and any request out of the ordinary that seems time consuming or confusing is likely to not happen. If you’re a regular or they have an awesome byoc policy, it’s an exception.
polish your glass:
I know it’s clean, you know it’s clean – make sure they can see how clean it is. I don’t have a dishwasher and often have water spots on my glass. I like to rub my glass down with a cloth before dropping it off anywhere so it’s crystal clear! If they hesitate, a sparkling, crystal clear, immaculately clean glass container may be the difference between a yes and a no.
Sometimes, it might just be easier to order it in. If they’re slow or seem confused, sit at a table and order. When they bring it out transfer it to your own containers and head out! I have definitely done this before. I try to avoid it, because I hate dirtying up extra dishes even if I’m not the one washing them. But, sometimes – it’s the only way.
If someone goes out of their way for you – tip above and beyond. You’d be amazed at how happy they’ll be to see you come back with your own containers!
You will probably be told no at some point. You then have options for how you’d like to proceed, but you should ALWAYS be polite. If it’s out of someones comfort zone, it’s out of their comfort zone. You have the option to take your business elsewhere. You can, however, be persistent. If you continually show up, and ask for something in your own container and leave when they say no… they’ll most likely cave. Persistence sometimes is key. Not that I know from experience…..
A small family business is 1000x more likely to be accommodating than a large chain corporation. You’re building a relationship with these people; you’re creating a story. Small business owners care a lot more about having you as their customer.
know the law:
No where in the US health code does it say personal containers are not allowed. Don’t be afraid to ask for a manager. But, refer to “be polite” if someone tells you no.
play the part:
If you act like this is something you do ALL the time. They’ll believe you. Confidence is everything. Walk in proud of your container. Own it. If you seem so confident, make it normal, they won’t even question it. They’ll just go with the flow. Be polite, but instead of asking, “Can you use my container?” Just tell them, very nicely with a smile, but tell them, “I would like this to go in my container.”
I believe in y’all. You can totally do this. You have all of the necessary skills. So, go grab some takeout this weekend, and let me know how it goes!
Have you gotten takeout in your own container? What’s you favorite thing to get?
Love this, and thanks for the great advice on Napoli’s! I love their pizza <3
Yes! You must go to Napoli and Simple Thai! They’re AMAZING. Ask for Tristan at Simple Thai – he’s the best. Once, I went to Napoli’s for pizza dough three days in a row (it was my birthday weekend) and they were like, what are you doing with all of this dough? And, I was like I’m making pizza….. they thought I was doing something really spectacular. Nope, just pizza.
Every time I order taekout, I feel guilty about the amount of plastic and other wasteful materials being used. I was always wondering if I could ask my local restaurants to bring in my own containers. This is great advice, and after reading your post, I will purchase some really nice containers and attempt to do the same in my area!
Check out the post, "How to Pack a Zero Waste Lunch" it has links to my containers that I use. They’re fairly inexpensive, but have held up really well!
I got four takeout egg rolls last night and they came in a styrofoam container with two small sauce containers, all in a plastic bag. We’ve done a good job of reducing waste at home, but I’ve been reluctant to try it with takeout. After the amount of trash from last night, I really need to start and this was a perfect time for me to read this post! You’ve given some excellent advice that will give me courage to give it a try. Thank you!
I think takeout is one of the most wasteful things. I really wish restaurants would review their consumption. I bet they’d be happy to put your stuff in your own container. Best of luck! 🙂
Be polite, but instead of asking, "Can you use my container?" Just tell them, very nicely with a smile, but tell them, "I would like this to go in my container."
Love this – I’m not asking for something weird, or hard to do, this is a perfectly reasonable and normal request….helps give me a little more confidence to at least try.
Also (related to Tip 52) most places with bulk sections will tare a container you bring in
I think you guys are awesome! And so is Nala, despite having separation anxiety, she looks like a loveable dog in the photos and from what I gather in your posts. I love the weird angles of her face on the photos…
BTW, the container thingy also works for leftovers – I always have containers in my bike bag and if there’s been too much food, I collect it in a container and take it home.
She means the world to us! We will be her furrrever home. I can’t imagine a life without that sweet face. 🙂
Yes, great addition!! We always keep a container on us for leftovers too.
I’m new to zero waste and we rarely get takeout because we need to eat gluten-free so I have yet to attempt takeout, but I have braved the deli and meat counters a few times now. Before the first time at the deli counter I asked (as she handed me my cheese wrapped in cellophane instead of the usual butcher paper) if I could bring my own container next time. She said yes. The following week I asked a different server for my 1/2 pound of lunch meat in my own container. She said they didn’t do that. I VERY politely said that I had asked last time and that I was told it was OK (and didn’t call out the fact that the woman who had said yes was standing 10 feet away helping another customer.). She went in back and asked and came back and said ok. As I was walking away the other woman apologized and very politely told me I might need to ask a few times because some of the employees are new and don’t know it’s allowed. It never hurts to ask more than once – and always helps to be super polite!
Very, very true! Persistence is key. 🙂
I’m taking takeout in my own container to work. After 2 weeks I’m starting uni and I want to start taking my own food there because we are so used to having fast lunch with so much waste there.
Thank you so much for this post. 🙂 Sooo helpful!
We have a rescue dog too and he has had a lot of separation anxiety issues to begin with. But we have trained him to be more independent though various techniques the most important one being not to give him too much attention (this one was hard), not to baby him and to leave him on his own. Dogs need to know how to be alone and if he’s always going to have people around and always going to be taken with then he will never get over his separation anxiety. You shouldn’t have to stop doing the things you love 🙂 It’s normal for dogs to be alone from time to time.
Anyway, sorry, I don’t want to give you fur-child parental advice. hehe!
Love what you’re doing!! keep it up!
Hi my name is Crystal. I read your post about takeout, and many other posts about "going zero waste". I always wonder how can I find a way to avoid the waste that I use once and anything. When I read this post about bring your container for takeout and storage for meats. I wonder the meats in container in freeze will be good? Its my first time and want to try to use glass jars and container on anything include the foods. for bulk sometimes I bring my jar to local natural food store in here, of course I will have the cashier to weight the empty jar first before I filled it up until I see your pix of jars with stickers like PLU#, I never thought of that instead I wrote PLU number and name of items on the paper and give to the cashier. I will read more of your post and tips then I will change my some habits in better and wise choices in ecofriendly way instead of plastic. Thank you!
This is exactly what I needed! Thanks so much for pointing me in the right direction and offering this emotional support. Coffee has been my ‘gateway’ container to bring along, but the others have been harder for me. People where I live aren’t accustomed to this kind of thing, but I can help them become so! Your advice is really great and I’m looking forward to giving it a try.
I got my first takeout in container today. I’m really happy that the deli didn’t deny my request and I planned to tip before I leave the deli. But the guys behind the counter making my order were all giggly, so I left as soon as I got my order. I still think I should have tipped so that they are even more accommodating next time someone makes such a request. But I do want to know how you guys not get conscious in such a situation?
I’m in the UK and until 5 or so years ago our fish and chips would come wrapped in no more than paper. Now everywhere seems to have made the awful switch to polystyrene containers! I don’t know for whose benefit – presumably more expensive for the business, more household waste, and from recyclable/compostable to landfill. I might ask my local chippy why they’ve made this decision and, if it’s still an option, request that my food gets wrapped up the old way. I’m sure they still use it for the smaller options (eg, just chips). And our local Chinese is walkable, so I should make the effort to go in to order with my own boxes rather than phoning ahead to collect. Thanks for making me feel less alone in trying to make these changes!
Years from now, people will look back on our profligate use of EPS and plastic wraps with disbelief…just hope it is not too many years from now!
Thanks, everyone for the support and helpful tips- every effort counts and we have to provide loving examples of stewardship.
Lucky Nala! Our first dog suffered from SA, just as Nala does. We did everything, including getting her a companion dog. Ended up with a pack of 12 dogs: 3 that had SA eventually overcame it. Our original dog never did, but lived a long and happy life in the center of her pack. As we lived on a farm, there was always some loving human being for her to hang with.
Thank you so much for the encouragement, KK!
Can you help with where in the health code this is? What does it say about things like salsa bars or self serve type things?
how do you weight it first? you would be dirtying something to weight it in. then it isnt zero waste. I would love to go to a take out buffet or a supermarket olive bar or slald bar and not have to use their container
I often bring an extra of the exact same container/lid I’m filling in the bulk section (super easy when using mason jars). Then at checkout I hand them the empty one first, then they tare the scale and proceed with the rest of my jars 🙂
I’ve used a mason jar at the grocery store before. Before you shop, ask a cashier to weigh the jar and write the weight on the lid. When you check out, the cashier will deduct the weight of the jar from the purchase.
This was so helpful. Thank you!
I use a large mason jar for my bubble tea!
Thank you. I Live in France and stumbled upon your blog (-usually not a blog reader-), and find it helpful and most of all, encouraging. I will definitely do it from now on. thanks again.
My DH used to get avegolemono (greek chicken soup) from my favourite local restaurant whenever I was sick. One day we asked if we could bring in our own containers and tey said yes! Sadly, two years ago, the family closed down the shop. We have mostly big chains around us now, since we live in a big city and we’re finding it much harder to get them to acquiesce despite our being long time customers (we’ve lived in the area 20+ yrs), but we still persist. I agree the small businesses are more flexible.
YAY!!!! I am the only one i know who does this…..the confidence suggestion was great for me to read. I try to be SO nice and proud….everyone will want to follow my lead…thank you soooo much
You should take Nala to Caesar Milan (the dog whisperer)! He’ll help her be a mentally balanced dog.
I think this is a great idea! However, I think you might struggle to persuade people to do this who are regular take out orderers. Personally I very rarely order takeout, but my friends who do so usually do it when they are feeling too lazy to leave the house or have run out of food. They don’t prep ahead and the purchase is on an impulse. They open Uber Eats or Deliveroo on their phone and order there.
I wondered if you’d thought of any tips to combat this? I’m really excited by the prospect of zero waste takeout, but I think 80% of people who order it are probably in the lazy mindset I mentioned above – the whole attraction of getting take-out is not having to leave the house, so suggesting they head to the restaurant, container in hand, won’t work.