How to Avoid Waste at Restaurants – and Nearly Everywhere

Reduce Your Trash On the Go

Spread the Sustainable Gospel!

With a little preparation, you can still enjoy your favorite restaurants without producing any waste. Many places use real plates, cups, and utensils but some still use the disposables. Oh yes, and that dreadful Styrofoam takeout boxes. There are many reasons why we’ve gotten to this point, and it usually ends up at convenience.

How to Avoid Waste at Restaurants - and Nearly Everywhere


Then there are portion sizes. Is it only in America that we get portion sizes SO big that we are forced to either take home the excess or toss it? Maybe I just eat like a bird? Any time we go out I usually end up with an additional two meals. I guess that’s a good money saving for me.

Anyway, in a perfect world, all restaurants would offer food on real plates, use real utensils, and real cups and we’d all just slow down and eat once in awhile but that just isn’t going to happen or work in some cases. Like for food trucks (using all compostable/plastic free items would be a good step for them). Well, this is where we come in. Because the food industry isn’t a completely circular model, we as the patron, have to make up for that by bringing our own. Seems cumbersome, yes, but it’s what has to be done at this moment in time if you want to eat out and avoid waste.

Having a kit of reusables on you for when you go out will keep you organized and on top of the trash situation. Keep in mind, that when you choose to eliminate waste, there will be several new habits that you’ll have to develop. So don’t beat yourself up if you forget your kit 1 – 2 – or 10 times. Because it will happen.

First, take a quick roll call on who will be joining you for the meal. Say, for instance, it’s you and a friend. In your kit – which is usually a canvas bag for me but anything is fine – you will put enough items to compensate for two people’s waste.

Here is what my husband and I have on us for when we go out. What you pack can change depending on where you plan to go.


This will contain all of your reusable items

Cloth Napkins

Cloth napkins are multipurpose – multipurpose items are great considering that means you won’t have to carry as many items on you. Cloth napkins can…
  • Help to avoid paper napkins
  • Wrap up leftover sandwiches to take home
  • Be used as a placemat
  • Be folded into origami swans when you’ve been waiting on your food for days.


At some point, you’ll be tempted to grab a plastic fork, spoon, or knife, but if you’re prepared you’ll be able to avoid them all together.


Reusable Utensils


My husband and I carry bamboo utensils, including chopsticks, with us at all times. They come in handy at least on a weekly basis.
If you don’t want to go out and purchase anything additional, simply grab some cutlery from your kitchen and stick it into your kit.

Refuse the Straw

Or use a reusable one. Do we really need them?


Reusable Water Bottle – or a “Dual Purpose” Jar

We just always keep our water bottles – or even just a mason jar – on us so if we decide to go to a place that doesn’t offer actual glasses, we just refuse the drink and drink our own that we brought. Water is what we would have ordered anyway. Some places will even fill your bottle back up for you.

Leftovers Container

Say you went out for pasta and have quite a bit leftover. I don’t think the cloth napkin would do a very good job and containing the excess for the trip home. In that case, this is the biggest item I keep on me for when we go out. I use to keep a quart sized mason jar in my car for leftovers but now I’ve upgraded to a two-tiered tiffin which always contains my food and my husbands’. I just love it.

Some restaurants have now graduated to compostable takeout containers. I use these as a last resort – if I have forgotten a container – to save the resources that would go into replenishing these containers.

Stick all of those items in your bag and you’re good to go. In the grand scheme of things, those items don’t really take up that much space. If this just seems too much to worry about – then refuse to go to places that don’t use the real stuff. Make it easy on yourself.

What tips or tricks do you have to prevent waste at restaurants?

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