Monday, October 13, 2008

fill'er up?

No, I'm not talkin' about gas. (Which has reached some unGodly cheap (well, cheap as in "Oh my word, gas is almost $3.00? That's unheard of! Whereas not so long ago we would have said "Holy Heck, gas is almost $3.00, what is the world coming to?!" Ah, them are the times.) price of $3.30. Hmm, you'd almost think it was almost election time, what with the price of gas dropping like a lead balloon, right before an election... OH, wait, it is? Hmm... Man, but do I digress...)

I'm talking about after that delicious meal you had dining out, taking your wonderful leftovers home, NO not in one of those evil styrofoam containers, but rather, you're own "brought-with-you" reusable container! I've read about this before, and honestly, if I thought getting people to accept my reusable tote bags over plastic bags was difficult, well, this would be down right painful!

BUT I think it's a great idea! I wonder how many friends of mine would finally give up on me, if I started bringing reusable containers for my leftovers, to restaurants we ate at? Hmm...

Over on, they've given us a great article, on this very subject!

"Bring Your Own Plastic Container - The greenest takeout packaging
By Helena Echlin

"No reader question this week, Table Manners fans: Helena has her own etiquette dilemma.

I usually bring my lunch to work in recycled yogurt containers. It bothers me to see my co-workers, who eat out, discarding so much trash: plastic clam shells from Caesar salads, Styrofoam pho containers, and cardboard sandwich boxes. Many are conscientious about recycling, but not all containers can be recycled. In any case, as we all know by now, reuse is always better. Ecoconscious Chowhounds are bringing their own containers to restaurants to hold their takeout food or leftovers. So recently I found myself wondering: Do health and safety codes allow this? And is there a specific type of container restaurants prefer that you bring? I decided to investigate.

Andrew Goenn, a server at Soup Freaks in San Francisco, said that although the store uses biodegradable containers, it “would be great” if people brought their own.

Restaurant regulation varies from state to state, but the FDA Food Code serves as a model. This states that it’s OK to refill containers belonging to the restaurant, provided they are properly cleaned and sanitized. But it says nothing about filling customer-owned containers. Neither does the health and safety code belonging to my home state of California. Here, a restaurant should not allow customer-owned containers into its food preparation area, but “giving the customer a plate of food and allowing them to transfer the food to their own container should not pose a problem,” says Kathie Griley, director of industry education for the California Restaurant Association.

If you’re using your own container as a doggy bag, it’s easy enough to fill it yourself. But at a busy takeout place, it’s too time-consuming for staff to first serve food on plates so that customers can transfer it to their Tupperware (not to mention that they’ll waste energy washing those plates).

If restaurants want to reduce waste without violating health and safety codes, there is a practical solution: provide reusable containers. Customers would receive a small rebate for returning containers, and the restaurant could then sanitize the containers per health and safety regulations. Some microbreweries already do this, by giving customers growlers or Mason jars they can refill with beer.

But unless more places start doing it, what’s a Styrofoam-hating takeout eater to do? According to Griley, there is a loophole in the FDA Food Code. If a restaurant can fill your container without taking it back into the food preparation area (“like if the pizza oven is right behind the counter”), some health inspectors would turn a blind eye, and restaurants will happily fill your receptacle.

Sure enough, when my husband took a china dinner plate to the pizza joint around the corner, the guy behind the counter readily plopped his slices onto it (although Jordan noticed the other customers giving him “weird looks”). The next day, I took a plastic container to an Indian place and ordered a vegetable curry. The server filled it for me without raising an eyebrow. It probably helped that my container was sturdy and clean. So if you want a restaurant to fill yours, don’t use a cracked margarine tub."


So, what do you think? Would you do something like this? DO you do something like this? Or is it taking things one step too far? Speak! Good luster!


Kelli @ Gohn Crazy said...

I've complained about take out containers so many times but I never felt like there was any alternative. I never gave this a thought but it's such a good one! I would love to be able to return the container for a deposit, but if I go to a restaurant that I'm known for not being able to eat the entire portion perhaps I'll start bringing my own container rather than having to take styrafoam. Love it! Thanks for posting this.

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of bringing your own container. No one bats an eyelash when you bring your own mug to a coffee shop, why should this be any different, right? Although I can see how some might think it's a bit...I don't know, tacky. I read in another story about how some think you shouldn't even take your left-overs home! Check it out...

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