Small steps: takeout & bags

The green bug has bitten many of us, encouraging us to do our part – however small or great – towards a more healthy environment.

My recent eco-hero is Lauren Kessler & Thinhouse: I cyber-met Lauren through a mutual Facebook friend, and wow. Lauren and her family are embarking on a 1-year journey towards more energy efficient lives, particularly in relationship to their 1920s (?) bungalow. Lauren’s message is simple, do-able, powerful.

But let’s take a step back and recognize this truth: there are many of us who don’t see the need to change our lives in order to better the environment.

So, rather than argue why we should, let me share a few small things my beloved and I do:

* Takeout containers: This one serves both as an eco effort and as cheap entertainment. We always keep 3-4 inexpensive reusable plastic dish containers in our car for when we get takeout / takeaway. (My dirty secret is that this didn’t begin as a way to help the environment – simply I hated how large and awkward those Styrofoam clamshells are.)

The entertainment piece is birthed when we go to a restaurant who isn’t accustomed to people bringing their own takeout dishes. There was a time I heard the chef hollering to the host something along the lines of “What am I supposed to do with this crap-container?!” And recently the confused, slightly offended server who told me, “You know, we have our own containers.”

I don’t know about other cities, but Seattle has been working on a plan to ban Styrofoam takeout containers. Theoretically, I agree; but I am concerned whether the city will be able to convey the message properly to its linguistically-diverse inhabitants and whether there will be an economic hardship for restaurants (Styrofoam is cheap, you know).

Gumbo from Snoqualmie Brewery &Taproom

* Reusable bags: Similarly, we always have 5-6 reusable bags in our vehicle as well. (We are a car-driving family, so we try to keep things handy.) We use them at the grocery store, mall, thrift store, library, wherever. (And for all of us fashionistas, let me reassure you that, in today’s eco-trendy communities, there are all sorts of attractive bags for use. You needn’t look silly, if that’s what you’re worried about.)

Even a year and a half ago, reusable bags weren’t as convenient at the mall. I don’t know whether it was my professional experience, but there certainly appeared to be an are-you-stealing-with-your-big-(cool)-bag? attitude. But that’s less common, now that stores from JC Penney and Macy’s to Target and Ikea all sell their own reusable bags. (Interestingly, I couldn't locate Penney's or Macy's reusable bags on their commerce sites - maybe they only wish to promote purchase of these bags in-store?)

You know, when I lived in Siberia, we had to pay stores for a plastic bag. I don’t recall street vendors having any. Now, certainly this was a cost-savings initiative rather than an ecological one, but still a good reason.

* Recycle: We keep a bin in the kitchen for simple recyclables: paper, bottles, plastics and such.

Things we don’t do:

* Lights: Whereas we do use compact fluorescents (CFL’s), we also keep quite a few lights on during the grey, dreary Seattle winters. Right now we’re surrounded by 5 lights. Feel free to judge, but it helps our mood.

* Compost: Sure, we’d like to compost, but I just haven’t been able / willing to make the leap. We’re in a small apartment (we had plenty of suspicions about the housing market and so waited), though the gardening and home improvement programs I follow tell us that we could still do our part easily enough.

Now, I’m sure you don’t like being told what to do, so I’ll close with this:

We can all do a bit, and we – because our surroundings will be healthier – will be healthier also. It needn’t be a marathon if you don’t want. Just a few small steps would be wonderful.

Blog Update: Feb 18, 2011: deleted hyperlink to Lauren Kessler's blog Thinhouse, which appears to have been removed


  1. Brenda, I think this is a great blog! I never would've thought of the take out container one. But what an awesome idea! I think I'll start doing that (or just not bringing home leftovers, because chances are it's food I shouldn't be eating in the first place! :)

  2. Brenda, the chef's response to your "green" takeout option was a kick. Thank you for sharing. What if restaurants provided a reusable container displaying their logo? It would be another advertising opportunity-as you'd be displaying the restaurant's logo whenever you used it to take your lunch to work. Possibly the cost would be prohibitive, still its a consideration.

    I have found that Barnes & Noble's bags are beautiful and reasonable-under $2.00. I've used them for large gift bags for some time, and people are THRILLED to have something they can reuse.

  3. Glad you like the idea, Shelli - in addition to your comment, there have been several similar verbal comments today as well. Delighted to hear it's a helpful idea.

    Excellent thinking, Barbara. Restaurant logo takeout containers could be like the new Nalgene bottles that were so popular.

    Yes, I like the BN bags as well, Barbara. I love the idea of reusable bags as gift bags - a furtherance of the gift, you know?

  4. Brenda, so I took your advice!!

    I've had my own stash of reusable bags for a time now, but your idea of taking your own containers to restaurants was so new to me! So I did it. The reactions were wonderful! From everyone, my friends were ridiculously embarrassed our server was so confused. I got the same line of "You know we have our own, right?" and then the server just stared at me for a little while.

    The reactions are just one of many reasons that I'm going to continue to do this from here on out. Thanks for the great idea!!

  5. Love it, Brit-Lee. Am glad you're having such fun with this.

  6. I saw this article today and thought of your post -;columns


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