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There are certainly few things in American life more convenient than takeout.
The rise of Grubhub, Uber Eats, Bite Squad, Door Dash and a few others has made the process even easier. Now, you don’t even have to leave your house to get takeout food…or takeaway as some folks call it.
I began to seriously rethink my relationship with takeout on a trip to the EU a couple of summers ago.
For most of our visit, we stayed in Valkenburg, a quaint little village in the Netherlands with the picturesque ruins of a medieval castle perched high on a hill. It is located a very short drive from the border with Germany and Belgium.
The village center had a number of excellent restaurants within walking distance of our small hotel.
On some days, we returned from our excursions quite worn out, rather unwilling to go and sit in a restaurant for a meal.
Takeout seemed very appealing on those days!
On one particular afternoon, I went to get takeaway for my son and myself. I was shocked when I was told that the restaurant had no plastic utensils or straws.
The staff used only a small paper bag to package up the food. There was no styrofoam or plastic whatsoever.
When I got back to the hotel, I borrowed some silverware from the front desk to eat with. The maid collected it the next morning when our room was cleaned.
That simple experience got me to thinking…why do some countries get by just fine without the plastic utensils, straws, and styrofoam included with the approximately 5.5 million takeout meals prepared every day in the United States? (1)
This convenience comes with a huge environmental price.
Many people believe that this plastic is mostly recycled. I used to think this too!
As it turns out, a staggering 91% of plastic isn’t reused at all. It ends up in our waterways or polluting the shores of third world countries. (2)
Those plastic bags that you diligently take to the supermarket recycling bins to avoid using reusable bags? Yeah, the majority of those are exported too due to contamination. (3)
The hard truth is that recycling has not reduced the amount of new plastic produced each year. The amount surged from 15 million tons in 1964 to 311 tons in 2014—an increase of more than 2,000 percent. (4)
With waste management facilities overwhelmed and no profitable market to sell plastic waste, countries resort to exporting it across our vulnerable oceans.
Out of sight is definitely NOT out of mind.
Once the oil guzzling barges unload the dirty, smelly trash, third-world waste pickers sort through the toxic mess by hand to find the few pieces that are most valuable.
The rest becomes landfilled or incinerated, creating a health crisis for third world communities. Local waterways act like conveyor belts, sending plastic straight out to sea.
This causes the Great Pacific Garbage patch or Pacific trash vortex…the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world between Hawaii and California to continue its wildlife-choking growth. (5)
Some of it ends up polluting marine products too. Estimates are that microplastics now contaminate 90% of table salt. This includes your expensive unrefined sea salt too. (6)
Styrofoam. Worse than Plastic?
What about polystyrene? Those styrofoam containers used to pack your takeout bag are even worse than the plastic utensils, straws, and chopsticks if that’s possible.
Styrofoam takes at least 500 years to decompose. In some cases depending on weather and location, it may never break down.
Recycling is theoretically possible, but not financially feasible in most cases at the present time. (7)
Toxic Takeout Containers
As if the mind-boggling amount of waste isn’t enough, consider that eating takeout food regularly can harm your health.
You know that paper that lines the styrofoam container that holds your food?
It is likely treated with PFAS chemicals that are highly persistent in the environment and contaminating water supplies. They are also linked to cancer. (8)
Even the paper takeout packaging used by Whole Foods and other health food-oriented businesses commonly contain these chemicals. (9)
End Your Takeout Addiction
The truth about takeout is that this convenient but excessively wasteful habit is contributing massively to the mountain of trash polluting not just our environment, but poor nations as well.
These poverty-stricken citizens have little to no monetary or political resources to prevent rich nations from dumping trash on their shores.
Note the amount of packaging waste in the picture above…this amount of trash is from a single kid’s meal!
The packaging is also toxic in the majority of cases, so takeout addiction ends up harming our health too!
I’ve been working hard to eliminate takeout from our family’s life. While I can’t say that we never do takeout, I can say that we only get food to go a couple of times a month. This is still too much for me.
My goal is a zero takeout habit until packaging options are completely nontoxic and 100% biodegradable with no need for recycling.
While one family eliminating dependence on takeout will obviously have no effect, reversal of this massive, growing problem has to start somewhere.
Care to join the ripple?