Why I Stopped Asking for Disposable Takeout Containers: Living the BYOB Life

UPDATED: 3/2/2020

As a foodie, I love eating out but inevitably I always order too much food and always have leftovers and normally have to ask for a to-go box.

I care about the environment and the amount of garbage and waste produced by humans, I absolutely HATED getting Styrofoam, plastic, and plastic-lined paper containers that would just get thrown out the next day after the food was eaten. Sometimes I would get a small amount of food given back to me in a huge plastic container – it seemed like a complete waste.

I started thinking – how can I stop using one-time-use disposable takeout containers?

The solution I came up with was to start bringing my own box with me when I go out to restaurants or food events. Yes, that’s right – I’m BYOBing (bring your own box). 

*PLEASE NOTE: In an earlier version of this post I was recommending the Vremi Silicone Food Storage Container (which you can find on Amazon), but I can no longer recommend this product and I have since stopped using it entirely. Please see the end of this post for the full explanation.

I recently purchased a Stasher bag from a local shop to test it out as a replacement. It’s a platinum grade silicone food storage bag designed by a California B-corp company and manufactured in China. Once I’ve used it for a while I will update this post with my thoughts on the product.

According to a Vox article from 2018,  the EPA reported that “packaging accounts for nearly 30 percent of all waste generated across the country… and this doesn’t include other single-use items like disposable plates and utensils, diapers, junk mail, and paper towels.” That is a LOT of waste!  If everyone started bringing their own takeout boxes to restaurants, we could surely start chipping away at that number.

When I know there is a chance I might be eating out and there may be leftovers, I always try to bring my own food container. I even bring boxes while traveling so I can bring food on the airplane. I’ve also started bringing a box when I know I’m going to take out food, such as my local burrito place.

Burrito in a reusable container

I just hand her my container and she packs the burrito in my reusable box rather than having to use a throwaway container. The business owner wins AND the environment wins!

I know some to-go places will not package their food for me in my own box out of an abundance of caution around receiving a health code violation, but I’m trying to reduce my usage one-time use containers whenever possible. This has led me to choose to sit down and eat at restaurants rather than take out, which may not be as convenient, but something I’m willing to do to avoid making extra waste.

There are some entrepreneurs and universities trying to make a dent in this disposable container problem.

Go Box, based out of Portland, OR offers a subscription service that allows you to request a reusable container from a food vendor who participates. Later, you can return the container at a drop-off point to be cleaned and redistributed – kinda like a Netflix for food containers.

On the university side, a company called OZZI provides reusable containers for schools and businesses to use in their cafeterias. Similar to Go Box, diners get their food in reusable containers then return the OZZI container to a drop-off location to be cleaned and used again.

You can get a good idea of how they work in this video by Vox (forward to 3:30 to see OZZI containers in use):

I would LOVE to see Go Box and a program come to the college campuses in the Denver and Boulder areas. This seems like something Denverites and Boulderites would love!

*UPDATE: In an earlier version of this post I was recommending the Vremi Silicone Food Storage Container (which you can find on Amazon). I really liked these containers because the silicone containers collapse when not in use, making it easy for me to carry around. HOWEVER, an awesome reader let me know that a reviewer on Amazon pointed out that the package now contains a warning (which they are now legally obligated to include as part of California’s Prop 65) that the product may expose you to Lead or Lead Compounds. Definitely not what I was looking for.

When I wrote to the company asking about the claim that their items may expose a consumer to lead/lead compounds they gave me a legalese answer that DID NOT DENY that there may be risk of exposure and that their products were “safe enough not to produce health-related issue and poisoning” and “under the state limit” (whatever that means) but “the warning is just regulatory advice that is requisite for us to follow especially for customers located and units sold in the state of CA.”

Essentially I walked away thinking that there may be some risk of exposure and even if it’s “under the state limit” it’s still somehow enough to need a warning.

I will no longer use these containers to hold food items and encourage you to do the same. I will update this post when I find a suitable collapsible container replacement, but for now, I’m back to using my regular old boxy OXO plastic food storage containers.

What do you think of the idea of bringing your own takeout box when you go out to eat or using reusable to-go boxes at cafeterias? 

3 replies on “Why I Stopped Asking for Disposable Takeout Containers: Living the BYOB Life”

I came here looking for recommendations for reusable takeout containers, but saw that the Venmo containers “may expose you to lead”!!!
NOT a good buy. There is a customer photo in the amazon link showing the label with this warning. This product is not tested.

Thank you for pointing this out to me – I bought these prior to 2018 when Prop 65 forced companies to disclose this type of information to consumers. I emailed the company to get an answer about this. I’m now considering not using this product anymore and will update my post.

As someone who has carried metal straws for almost a decade, I can tell you the battle is with the restaurant and how they perceive the health department.
If you can order in, package the meal yourself, no worries.
You are lucky at your burrito joint.

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