“Check this out,” my friend said, handing me a small, brown paper bag labeled “100 percent green.”
My friend had saved me the bag, which had come with a food order holding a disposable fork and knife. She was incensed, kind of. It was hard to tell since she was laughing so hard.
“100 percent green? Ha! More like 100 percent unnecessary!” She laughed some more. “Why couldn’t they just hand us the utensils?”
A brown paper bag is better than a plastic bag holding the utensils, and I’m sure the other packaging the food came in was far more objectionable in terms of one-time use and garbage. But she was right — the bag was pretty insufferable in the way it tried to broadcast its goodness. It was also labeled “sustainable and biodegradable” — although it didn’t mention being made from recycled paper.
Greenwashing is nothing new and this is a pretty small example: Tout your biodegradable bag that holds your single-use plastic utensils that come with your plastic containers of food. Brownie points!
It’s hard to get sustainable takeout. Most come in plastic containers that are questionably recyclable, and most come with plastic utensils in plastic bags, napkins in plastic bags, condiments in single-use containers — and the whole order is in a few more plastic bags for good measure.
I know someone who regularly orders takeout from a restaurant and brings her own containers for them to fill, but it’s a special favor they do for her, a regular customer. I don’t think I’d try to mess with kitchen efficiency by handing my own containers over the counter at most places.
And certainly there are places that pack their meals in compostable dishes and hand out biodegradable plastic utensils.
An easier fix would be to skip the disposable utensils altogether, especially if you’re taking an order home. You’ve got forks and knives at home, as well as napkins, salt and pepper, your own bottles of ketchup and mustard. That’s a lot of single-use or plastic wrapped stuff you could ask to be left out of your takeout bag.
And now, when more people are thinking about refusing straws to prevent more plastic pollution, how hard could it be to refuse the utensils as well? If you get takeout for lunch, keep metal utensils in your desk drawer.
The no-straw movement got big because of a video about a turtle with a straw stuck up its nose. There are plenty of equally distressing stories, photos and videos about plastic pollution — mostly plastic bags and single-use bottles, containers and other packaging — floating in the ocean or washing up on once-pristine beaches. Enough to cause equal outrage and maybe make us change our habits.
In Kenya, some people made an entire dhow — a sailboat — out of plastic collected from roads and beaches, which they sail around the coast to raise awareness of plastic pollution. The boat, named the Flipflopi after the 30,000 washed-up flip-flops that are part of its construction, was designed to encourage people to find innovative ways to reuse some of that plastic garbage, and to highlight the problem of single-use plastic that ends up in our oceans and on our roadsides.
Refusing single-use plastic bags and straws is one way we can help cut down on that waste. Another is to skip the disposable utensils, even if they come in a cute little paper bag.
Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on Feb. 17. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.