8 Things a Plastic-Free Expert Always Brings With Her to Restaurants and Food Trucks

published Sep 12, 2021
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Spacious kitchen with open shelving and solid oak work surfaces. The pendant lights and units are both by Ikea.
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You may not think going out to eat at your favorite restaurant involves a lot of waste — unless you’re taking food to go. In that case, the establishment may send you home with all kinds of plastic, Styrofoam, and otherwise not-biodegradable containers. To make eating out a more sustainable affair, Marissa Jablonski, a plastic-free expert and the executive director at the Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin, keeps a to-go food kit in her car and bike bag. 

Her kit is a bag that happens to be decked out with a cheeky monster design, but that’s just what she had on hand — your to-go kit’s aesthetic doesn’t matter nearly as much as what’s inside. Here’s everything Jablonski brings to a restaurant to cut down on her use of one-time use plastic. 

Reusable to-go containers

When she can’t finish a meal at a restaurant, Jablonski uses a stainless steel container with a bamboo lid (totally plastic-free). Her only warning about metal? “If you put hot food in it, the container gets super hot,” she says. “So make sure if you buy stainless steel it’s double-paned.”

But the container doesn’t have to be stainless or even glass. When creating your own to-go kit, the important thing is to reduce unnecessary plastic or Styrofoam consumption — so recycling an old Tupperware container you already have is totally fine.

If you’re at a food truck and you can’t get your food in your own container, Jablonski recommends asking for your food wrapped in aluminum foil rather than styrofoam. Then, she transfers the food to her own container. “That way, you can rinse and recycle the foil or rinse and reuse it afterward,” she says.

A to-go mug with a sealed lid

What about spillable soups, drinks, and other liquids? To prevent messes, Jablonski also keeps a to-go mug. For example, she puts extra salsa from a taco restaurant in the mug, or if she goes to a coffee shop, she’ll ask the barista to fill the mug with her drink. (Not all establishments are up for that during the pandemic due to the risk of cross-contamination, but it’s worth an ask.)

Reusable utensils

Just in case she wants to eat before she gets home, she also loads up her to-go kit with a reusable bamboo fork, knife, and spoon. That way, she can always politely decline when the server asks if she needs silverware (which is almost always made of plastic and wrapped in plastic).

A silicone food storage bag

Reusable silicone bags that seal shut like Ziplocs are great for extra food, too. Just make sure you seal yours shut all the way so it’s leak-proof!

A foldable cup

Lemonade stand beckoning? Jablonski knows the feeling. That’s why she keeps a foldable, reusable cup like this one in her bag, too. (The mug would work in a pinch, too.)

A silicone straw

For coffee shop and bubble tea trips, Jablonski keeps a silicone straw on hand. Technically, she notes, silicone isn’t biodegradable — but she’s fine with it because it’s fully reusable. You can also invest in a metal or glass straw, but many of these aren’t collapsible or may be fragile; a silicone straw has the added benefit of portability.

A cloth napkin

Instead of grabbing paper napkins, dirtying them, and throwing them away, Jablonski brings a reusable cloth napkin or bandana in her bag. If she’s taking to-go food from a restaurant, the napkin is on standby for cleanup in her bag; if she eats at a food truck, she can use it while eating. 

A lightweight reusable bag 

In case she wants to put containers in a bag within her bag — or, if she grabs chips or another dry food to take home — she also packs a lightweight polyester bag. Polyester contains plastic, yes, but it’s not wasteful if you’re washing it and reusing it multiple times!