I’ve written before about the importance of switching from a plastic to-go-cup to bringing your own tumbler whenever you get an iced coffee out at a cafe or restaurant to save landfills and energy of recycling hundreds of plastic cups, lids, and straws. I am really proud of the plastic that was not used by me in the past five years since I’ve been using my tumbler daily. There’s really no need to create all that waste – either bring your own or ask for a mug in the cafe. Recently I have expanded my actions of decreasing my single use plastics, I now pay attention to the restaurants and cafes that I visit and have made conscious decisions to boycott places that regularly serve with plastic utensils or cups.
There are of course times when plastic silverware has its benefits, say for a picnic, but even then there are alternatives such as metal or single use wooden utensils. But at a sit down restaurant, I see no logic in it. It was over a year ago that I went to an expensive restaurant here in Busan that sits on a marina, has modern interior design, and caters to wealthy customers. Their fare follows their aquatic theme, concentrating on deep-fried seafood baskets with french fries – fish ‘n chips basically. At this “nice” establishment the food comes out in a cardboard box with a wax paper lining, to eat they supply plastic forks and knives, and condiments are given in 2oz plastic dishes with lids (With lids! With lids to sit down and dip your fish into and then immediately throw away.) That is a lot of waste from one meal. And is it just me, or doesn’t using disposables cheapen the image of a restaurant?
During my first visit there I sulked as I ate, trying not to ruin the vibe for my friends, and I vowed to never go there again. Over a year later the place was suggested to eat at for a friend’s birthday and I had to speak up and be the Debbie Downer that often makes an appearance as an environmentalist and say that I could not eat there based on the waste. It was uncomfortable to vocalize and certainly put a damper on the issue, but I had to say it. In the end, plans changed and we didn’t go there, but I am glad I spoke up none-the-less.
I also once ate at a pizza place that serves by the slice. They served that slice of pizza on a nice wooden board but also lined that board with a piece of paper – totally unnecessary. Plates were of course paper as well. The utensils were plastic so I opted to just use my hands. Even the draught beer, which was from a local brewery, was served in plastic cups. I really enjoy that local beer but couldn’t bring myself to order it.
Side note on the beer cups; there are times when they are required, say a crowded concert floor where glass could be a danger, or at an outdoor event where again it’s a hazard to have glass. In that case, breweries and restaurants could serve their beer in a compostable, corn-based cup, which is what I found back home in the U.S. at my favorite local brewery – Southern Tier Brewery of Lakewood, NY. I was sad to have to switch to plastic in order to follow my friends onto their stones course*, but was relieved when I saw that it was a compostable plastic cup. (I heard from a friend that there is a cafe in Busan that serves their to-go coffees in a similar cup, it’s on my to-do list to check it out and of course there shall be a post.)
It really might seem crazy to most people that I am so affected by this issue (I once described how it feels as if I’m strangling a kitten, or some other such heinous crime, whenever I use plastic, or worse still, don’t have the option to recycle it) but since I have been living by the sea and witness the amounts of litter and waste that makes its way into the water, I have been more and more adamant about limiting my contribution to our dying oceans.
So, what to do about this? After I realize what’s going on, I decide not to visit the restaurants again. Another option could be to go but to bring my own utensils and tumbler. I have even gone so far as to bring my own dishes along to an event that I knew would be using single use. Sure, I got a few weird stares, but I also got some compliments and hopefully inspired at least one or two people to be more aware. I wouldn’t suggest lugging your picnic basket around with you everywhere you dine, but sticking some silverware in your purse at all times might be a good middle ground. They’re not big and you can even find compact camping style ones. One of my next projects is to sew a little fabric carrier to keep my chopsticks and spoon clean when I carry them around. Post on that when I get around to it. Until then, I shall simply be boycotting single use plastics at restaurants.
How do you avoid it?
*Footnote: Stones is a cool new game which from my understanding was invented in my region of south-western New York State. It’s a game similar to bocce ball that requires a grass and sand course. I noticed it was gaining a lot of popularity at Southern Tier, they even had T-shirts, which to my delighted surprise were made from 100% post-consumer recycle material. High five!