The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

February 17, 2010

Carrying Our Own Containers: Powerful Action or Pointless Inconvenience?

Bringing my own stainless steel container to the butcher shop“Do you ever get embarrassed?” A journalist, following my plastic-free life, put that question to me as I handed the butcher my stainless steel pot. I was buying ground meat for my homemade cat food. In my own container. Waste-free. “No,” I answered flippantly. “I haven’t been embarrassed about anything since I turned 40.” But the answer wasn’t quite that simple. I do realize that my actions can seem extreme to many… okay most… people.  And it’s not always easy to buck the status quo.

Whether sending my husband out with a metal tiffin for Chinese soup when I’m sick or bringing my own stainless steel wine glasses to an outdoor music festival to avoid plastic cups, my actions have provoked both smiles and raised eyebrows. And in the end, do my efforts really matter? Can one person bringing her own mug, water bottle, food containers, glass straw, cloth napkins, reusable utensils, and of course cloth bags really make an impact on the environmental problems we face today?

If I were alone in my efforts, perhaps they wouldn’t be more than personal feel-good measures. But fortunately, I am not alone.

Take Out Without

Take Out Without bannerA new campaign aimed at reducing unnecessary restaurant packaging is urging supporters to bring their own resusables (BYOR) and to refuse disposable containers, cups, bags, even straws. Take Out Without asks its members not only to bring their own containers but also to upload photos of their actions to the TOWO Flickr Group and to hand out TOWO informational wallet cards explaining how restaurants can reduce their food packaging waste. The campaign’s creed:

1) ReFuse Unnecessary Stuff. Think about the spoons, forks, straws, and napkins that you get served (why do they give you enough for a family of 20 when eating alone?). Ask yourself before accepting all these items, “Do I really need all of this?”

2) Re TakeYour Own Reusables. You can bring your own containers, straws, cutlery, mugs, bottles, and even your own bag – It’s so easy to find and use!

3) ReConsiderYour Habits. It’s easy to fall into a routine, so why not choose to create a new one?

I asked Lisa Borden of Borden Communications & Design, the force behind Take Out Without, how she came up with the idea for the campaign. Lisa explained that the idea originated with one of her clients, a manufacturer of bamboo products, who wanted to take action against Styrofoam. But Lisa wasn’t interested in stopping at Styrofoam. Why not target all restaurant packaging waste?

…in a day and age where too many of us spend more time eating and drinking from restaurants and cafes over our own kitchens, it’s an issue that is broad enough to be able engage so many into taking action.

Lisa herself would rather stay home and cook her own meals. But when out, she prefers sit-down restaurants over carry out and chooses those that practice waste reduction as much as possible. Her favorite restaurant creates compost from leftover food, which is then used to grow the organic produce they serve. But she recognizes that unfortunately not everyone has the time to cook at home or sit down for a meal. In those cases, bringing our own containers for take out or leftovers can make a difference.

What if a restaurant won’t do it?

From my experience, there are businesses that have no problem filling up my containers (the Chinese restaurant down the street, the butcher shop, Whole Foods, my local cafe, the sandwich guy on the corner) and there are those that do. And there are those that ostensibly do but actually don’t get it. Take this example from Lisa:

Some businesses get it, some just don’t….

[Once] I went proudly into a great cafe and handed my Insulated Klean Kanteen over to them and then realized that they made my drink in a disposable, poured it into my mug, and threw out the cup! Moral of the story: always check the process, not just the end result!

I choose to frequent spots that do get it, or want to…. but it’s amazing what businesses will do for your business. Remember to explain WHY you are bringing your own containers. Then you’ll be the brilliant one starting a trend.

My attitude? First, ask. You won’t know if you don’t ask. Then, patronize the businesses that will comply with the request and steer clear of those that won’t. I always try to explain why reducing waste is important to me and why I won’t be coming back until they either start letting folks bring their own containers or at least switch to sustainable, compostable packaging.

What about health concerns?

Lisa says,

As a mother of an allergic child, I certainly have concerns over cleanliness and food safety, and can embrace that there need to be exceptions to every rule, but also that there is a way to make anything and everything work. Really, how clean is that pizza box laden with toxic chems anyways? If you consider all sides, you can freak yourself out about the dangers of everything. Reducing is important. We can find a way.

Personally, I’ve had several take-out places refuse to use my containers, citing vague health regulations. But in my experience, more of them will do it than won’t. That’s here in Oakland, CA. Your mileage may vary. But like I said before, you don’t know if you don’t ask.

What if they point and laugh?

In addition to speaking with Lisa, I asked around to find out what other people thought about bringing their own reusables for take-out food.  Micaela from Mindful Momma, who recently wrote about all the containers and bags she brings with her to shop at the coop, wondered if bringing containers to restaurants was somehow different. As she wrote me,

For instance, let’s say I want to get a deli salad from a regular grocery store (not the co-op). If I bring my own container do they have a way to figure a tare weight? Will the salesperson be totally confused and look at me like I’m a nut-case?

And then, inspired to examine her concerns further, Micaela wrote a new post: Preparing to Reduce TakeOut Waste.

Truth be told…I’m a bit embarrassed to be seen as an eco-geek. I’m cool with bring all sorts of containers to the co-op, but out there in the ‘real’ world, I’m less comfortable rocking the boat. Let’s say I bring a reusable container to the deli and ask them to fill it up instead of using a new plastic container. What if the salesperson gets confused or thinks I’m a nutcase? What if people look at me weird for bringing out my own utensils?

It’s a psychological hurdle Micaela wants to get over. And she goes on to suggest that a campaign like Take Out Without is a great way to get us motivated and to not feel so eco-freakishly alone. Lisa Borden agrees, and says that sometimes those embarrassing moments can turn into great conversations.

Going through airport security with my husband and kids, being questioned about the 5 stainless steel bottles (empty at this point due to liquid restrictions) and 2 insulated travel mugs (also empty) in our carry on luggage. I can safely say that I was sweating thinking of how we were going to manage if they confiscated them! It turned out they were all just curious and one of the agents, was so impressed that I had figured out a way to get a large serving of water on the airplane that wouldn’t spill that she asked me what else I could share!

I myself am not over the fear of standing out in a crowd. My solution? Take a deep breath and do it anyway. Those feelings of discomfort that wash over me from time to time? They’re starting to feel like my best friends.

How will this help me?

In my quest to find the best tips for organizing and remembering to bring our to-go supplies, I met San Francisco personal organizer Debra Baida, who blogs at Liberated Spaces. Oh boy am I glad I met this woman! Not only is she deeply committed to the environment, I’m hoping she can help me clean up my desk, which is still just as messy as when I wrote about it here last July!

First, Debra lists a few personal reasons why we might want to consider bringing our own containers. Regardless of whether or not doing so will “save the planet,” it can help us get out from under the mountains of “stuff” that bogs us down day to day.

The cupboard where I once stored bags became so full, that accessing them became an unpleasant exercise in preventing a mini-avalanche on the kitchen floor. The same was true for the abundance of empty yogurt containers that were stacking up with no place to go. The reality was that over the course of many years, I was only going to use a mere fraction of these bags and containers, so why continue to bring in more?

Debra says she started with cloth bags, which are durable and easy to hang up, sparing herself that impending plastic avalanche. Then, she began repurposing many of the other containers she already had for bulk purchases. “When I began to purchase certain food items from bulk bins and became mindful of the packaging certain products came in, I was amazed at how little “trash” I was ultimately bringing into my home.”

How do I organize and remember it all?

Here are Debra’s tips for organizing to-go supplies:

1) Establish a reasonable limit to how many containers you need and will actually use.

2) Designate a place in the kitchen where the containers will live. This can be a drawer, a shelf, a basket – whatever suits you. The key is to limit storage to one designated space that is both accessible and easy to use. And if it’s located in close proximity to your to-go bags, even better. Bags will remind you of containers and vice versa.

3) Depending on the space and your proclivity, stack container bottoms and lids together or separately in this space.

4) If plastic bags (for reuse) are part of your to-go regimen, store them in a modest to small-sized container so their accumulation is limited. For example, I have a small cloth bag hanging from a doorknob which is used solely for plastic bags.

5) When preparing to head to the grocery store, in addition to grabbing your shopping list, grab some bags and containers (the latter are especially useful for purchasing bulk items). The same applies for leaving the house when you go out to dine – especially if you have children! I don’t know many kids who actually finish their meal, so rather than asking for a to-go container and bag, you can whip out your own (and amaze the waitperson in the process).

With practice, this will become as commonplace as grabbing your cellphone before you leave the house.

That last line is important to me. Lisa Borden said something similar:

Maybe it sounds cliché, but you don’t leave home often without your keys or wallet and accomplish what you set out to do. If I don’t take my insulated mug with me, then I do not get a tea to go. Even if you forget, don’t take the disposables… t’ll make you remember next time

What if I can’t do it all?

No one is perfect, and no one is expecting us to make changes all at once. Start by refusing simple things like extra napkins, ketchup packets, plastic straws. Dee from Live Green Mom writes about how much she loves her new resuable glass drinking straws. While giving up plastic straws might not seem like a huge step, Dee says it’s important to make changes in manageable increments. To “lean into” them.

You may be saying, that is all well and good at home, but are you going to start taking these things with you? Yes. Yes I am. My husband is skeptical, but supportive. We are leaning, sweetie, leaning…

Stay tuned for the continuing adventures of Live Green Mom’s family taking glass straws with them.

Renee from EnviroMom writes “Bring your own durables restaurant-style: introducing the take-out kit” about how she keeps a reusable bag with nested reusable containers in the back of her car to help her remember. She calls it her Take-Out Kit and told me that when she does use it, she’ll often get compliments from servers for thinking ahead.

Do I have to buy a bunch of new stuff?

Absolutely not! While Lisa from Retro Housewife Goes Green provides a useful list of reusable take-out products in her post, Stop Wasting, While Out, we really can just use the things we already have. Mugs, utensils, containers are things most of us already have stored in our homes. Glass drinking straws? Probably not. But they are fun. I love mine. And I also love the travel mug that my co-worker bought me for my birthday when using a mason jar for a coffee mug wasn’t cutting it. But truly? Start with what you have.

How can I get other people to participate?

Besides asking our friends to sign up with Take Out Without, Ada from CuteBaby says she helps her coworkers reduce waste by posting the following in the kitchen at her office:

A word of eco-encouragement:

Feel free to leave your empty 7-11 cup here in the sink and I will wash it out. If you happen to think of it on your way over there, and grab a clean cup from this cupboard for your drink – you’ll pay the refill price. Save a little money, and keep some plastic out of our landfills. Neato!

I’m not sure I’d be willing to wash other people’s dishes (Just ask my husband!) but that is certainly a way to encourage bigger participation.

Will bringing our own containers solve the waste problem?

No. Not in and of itself. Green advocate Terra Wellington says that since the vast majority of the population is never going to bring their own containers to restaurants, we are wiser to focus our attention “upstream,” urging businesses to switch to more sustainable types of packaging and banning Styrofoam. That said, there are a couple of aspects to the Take Out Without campaign she appreciates:

I love the ReFuse component. It is easy, general-consumer messaging that can go a long way. Even if all customers did was refuse the straw, imagine the impact! And that is just one easy way to approach this — virtually none of us really need the straw to drink the beverage.

And she also appreciates the Take Out Without wallet cards as part of the educational effort.

Jennifer Schwab, Director of Sustainability at Sierra Club Green Home has similar feelings. She shared with me that in her personal life, she made it a mission to ask the owners of restaurants she liked to give up Styrofoam packaging. She would tell them they had 90 days to switch or she would find another place to eat. A few managers complied with her request since she was such a regular customer. Who says one individual can’t make a difference? Like Terra, Jennifer Schwab feels that it’s more useful to ask restaurants to change their practices than to ask busy Americans to bring their own containers.

It takes all kinds.

As I’ve said in other posts, while it’s clear to me that our personal, individual actions are not enough to clean up the planetary mess we’ve gotten ourselves in, they are an essential starting point. What each of us does matters. Lisa Borden says, “all little things add up to big things. The African Proverb that I live and work by is, ‘If you think you can’t make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito.'”

Hi. My name is Beth Terry. I’m a mosquito.

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Craig Penninger
4 years ago

I just saw on TV that China, Cambodia, The Phillipines and Malaysia are loading up OUR trash in shipping containers and shipping it all back to us by the ton.

I give it 6 months until everywhere you go, you’ll see people in line carrying their own containers. It’s why I looked up your site for the first time.

I thought we were greedy conspicuous consumers in the 80s. Americans are now consuming 5 times what we consumed in the 80s! This could be a real turning point.

6 years ago

Hi there.
Perhaps I can deal with weird looks and sarcastic comments. But the hardest part for me is to deal with my husband…. he always laughs at me and says that recycling is a waste of time…. I think it is bc I make him feel awkward when I do my eco-friendly moves. How to go by that?

6 years ago
Reply to  Gulia

Thanks for caring about younger generations! Maybe show your husband pictures of the plastic patch in the ocean or facts from the plastic pollution coalition’s website. The choices we make now will determine our health and the health of our children. Newborns are being born polluted with toxins from plastics and 98% of people have those compounds in their bodies. You’re doing the right thing, the smart thing. Keep it up. Eventually maybe he’ll join you. But even if he doesn’t, know that my generation and those to follow are grateful for people like you who are trying to do the right thing and care about our future.

7 years ago

Im very interested in going Zero Waste as much as I can. Im a mom, a pretty tired but I have made changes like cloth diapers, and for my pre-schooler, when I pack his lunch in glass or stainless steel containers.

STILL, I am really looking for practical advice on how to be more Zero Waste. For instance, I have left my WONDERFUL insulated stainless steel water bottles places. Just cost money to keep buying them. Is there a purse that people use that helps. I just leaned to reuse a glass container from Ice Tea I purchased once. This way if I loose it, Im not out that much money. Also what is the best way to carry your utensils for those times you find yourself eating out.

6 years ago
Reply to  Rini

Try thrift stores for (sometimes) new ss bottles

6 years ago
Reply to  Rini

I use mason jars. They aren’t that expensive and even though people worry about glass breaking I haven’t had that problem. I’ve been using them for years. Easy to clean too!! As for silverware, I have a set of bamboo silverware that comes in a cute little carrying case from

I’ve left behind jars and even lost a bamboo fork once, but luckily you can order single forks/spoons/etc. on the site (rather than having to buy a whole new set). It’s been working well for me! The trick is to always carry the silverware in my purse (I have a large bag) then remembering to wash any used utensils and put them back in my purse so I always have them when I need them.

Thanks for being conscientious!

Ashley Albinson
7 years ago

I know this article is six years old, but it’s one of the first that appears in a GIS search about bringing in your own containers. I am a server, and I have been asking this question to other servers, bartenders and kitchen people and while the overwhelming consensus is that it’s a step in the right direction and should be encouraged, depending on your area code it may be against health code to hand a container to someone behind a counter for them to to use. In the state of Florida, after contacting the DOH about food handling procedures, I was told that it is against health code for the server to do that in matters of take out. I am all about preserving the environment and discouraging waste, but in some cases it is not feasible for a restaurant to accept a container from an outside source, just as we cannot accept food from an outside source (example: gluten free tortillas brought to a restaurant by a guest should not be used by the restaurant and furthermore can no longer be considered gluten free due to the lack of a separate dedicated area of the grill, etc).
I would definitely encourage people to bring in their own containers for left overs, but I would call ahead and ask if they could accept a container for take-out instead of assuming they can. And I don’t believe you should ‘boycott’ a restaurant for following food safety rules either, because if we bend the rule we could have a health code violation which could lead to the shuttering of a restaurant. Trust me, we don’t like saying no, but in some cases we must.

Ms schambach
8 years ago

So I’m excited about this post, I just ordered some reusable stainless steel straws (that I plan to use when I go to restaurants vs the plastic ones they offer) as well as cloth napkins. Just wondering if it would be safe to use reusable ’tissues’? Similar to reusable cloth diapers. I also hope to start bringing containers to restaurants.

8 years ago
Reply to  Ms schambach

Men have been using handkerchiefs for years. Reusable tissues. Just launder and reuse.

9 years ago

Great article! I have a question: when you travel in a hot country and need to drink lots of water, when the tap water is not drinkable – then what do you do?? I just spent a month in South East Asia and felt horrible each time I had to buy a small plastic bottle of water …. Attempts to request drinking water NOT in a bottle to people who didn’t always speak English didn’t work … Any advise more than welcome! A.A.

Lisl B
6 years ago
Reply to  A A

What about boiling tap water to put in reusable bottles?

11 years ago

I’m sorry if this was answered before, I only skimmed the comments, What do you do at restaurants that have the silverware wrapped in a paper napkin?

8 years ago
Reply to  Kandi

I take the napkin home with me to use later. Like in the car? And you can compost it then too.

12 years ago

This is a great post. I just wanted to mention that in some places in this world carrying your own take out containers is completely normal (and in some the only way you would get your food home, i.e. villages in the Czech Republic.) Any no one seems to mind because it is just how they do things. If more people here carried their own “take out” containers it would probably catch on just like canvas bags have. Thanks again for the great post and blog, it is really encouraging and reminds me that I can do something as one person.

Melissa Holliday
13 years ago

Hooray!! With other people getting on board with using their own containers for restaurant leftovers, maybe I’ll get less weird looks. I was trying to lose weight and would split my restaurant meal in half before eating and take the rest home for another meal. I would ask the waitress/waiter for a small box at the time I ordered but the majority of the time I’d have to ask at least twice. Then they would bring me a HUGE styrofoam container that would take up half of my refrigerator. Frustrated with that, I started bringing my own container when I went out to eat. Now I’m keeping junk out of the landfill and reducing my eating at the same time!

I’m excited to hear about all the ways you are reducing waste and will be thrilled to do it myself. It always has bothered me when I get a small sandwich at a drive thru, I would be given a paper bag, a straw (I don’t use them), and enough napkins for a family of six. Just hand me the little wrapped sandwich and let me be on my way.

I think a little info card is a good idea to get the idea across quickly. I guess the challenge left before us is to get our teenage servers to make eye contact so we can convey this great idea. (pet peeve)

13 years ago

I carry around my own non-BPA lined stainless steel coffee mug, and I’ve been bringing my own grocery and produce bags for years, as well as jars for bulk food items at the grocery store. Although I occasionally see other people with grocery bags, I have never, ever seen anyone with their own produce bags, and the cashier invariably exclaims over them. I had not thought of bringing my own takeout containers to restaurants, though. Of course, we go out to eat so rarely, and even when we do we usually get appetizers/tapas, or split an entree so there are no leftovers anyways, so I doubt I would ever do this. Great idea, though! :) The closest thing I have seen to places encouraging this type of thing is Quiznos – if you buy their reusable bag for $.99 and bring it back each time you buy a sandwich, you get a free drink. Don’t forget your mug. ;)

13 years ago

I don’t know if anyone has asked this or given you this idea but I just wanted to say it in case it hasn’t been mentioned.

Two things on yoru own containers:
1) repurpose medicine jars (the plastic yellow ones the pharmacy gives you or someone in your family) as spice containers. Just take the label off and reuse. They are small and perfect for the bulk bin section on spices!

2) Any ideas on how to get away from plastic when it comes to getting your bird’s food, betta food, and snake food? I see you make your own cat food which can be translated to making your own dog food and vegetarian animal food (for bunnies and the like) but what about the others? Oh, and I actually see our local pet shop making their own “salads” for their veggie critters. I’m just wondering about the others. So far all of the bird seed is prepackaged (even the bulk stuff you can buy at the pet shop is) but I wonder if the millet in the bulk foods section at the grocery store would work for them. Betta food is either prepakcaged pellets, week pellets, or prepackaged mealworms in plastic bags. And even snake food either gets put live into paper bags or frozen into plastic AND paper bags. I have asked about putting the forzen stuff (I can’t deal with the squeals no matter how carnivorous snakes are naturally) in different bags and they say that they aren’t allowed to so that “other people don’t have to see it”. Any thoughts that don’t suggest I get rid of my pets?

Mary K
13 years ago

Reusable bags at stores is easy now, especially since its almost the cool thing to do with all the stores selling their own bags now. I have glass straws, and I have no problem using it when my husband and I go out, but when we are with other friends, I always cringe. Others tend to act weird about it, but I keep doing it. I haven’t progressed to my own take-out containers yet, but hopefully I can do that soon.

13 years ago

In Oregon state, health codes prohibit restaurants from putting almost all to-go food in a customer’s container. Coffee is about the only thing restaurants can dispense without running afoul of the law. There doesn’t appear to be any groundswell of support for revising this law that I’ve found.

On those days when I do buy takeout food, I tend to go to places where I know they use a minimum of packaging (or don’t use any plastic). But bringing your own food to work (or just eating at a restaurant) is the only way to avoid disposable items for us here.

13 years ago

Hello! I just stumbled over here today, and I think I’m in love. ;-) Especially the whole mosquito thing.

We’re constantly trying to lessen our impact. At the moment I’m debating internally about driving an hour away to buy foods in bulk.

I love my cloth grocery bags and produce bags, and though I’ve never seen another using cloth produce bags, it makes me feel great every time I see another shopper with their cloth bags in the cart. Us mosquitoes, we are making a difference. One bite at a time. :-)

Sarah (anderzoid)
13 years ago

This article is chalk full of great tips! Also, Thanks for a look at the pysch side of the issue! We all can adjust even small practices to change our mindset. one of my fave views for new Eco-conscious peeps is “shift your habit” (they r on Twitter but don’t think new book out yet). I’ve found Etsy to be a fun one stop place to buy useful items from others like you who are already pros at this: I’ve purchased wetbags, produce bags (that are so lite I don’t worry about paying extra that wholefoods can’t Tare out), reusable sandwich bags, and cute containers since I’m just not as crafty ad most. Moocowmamma even gave me a list of how to be “greener” while using he products. When in doubt I go back to how great grandparents or more ancient cultures did it like u said: metal straws like s Americans, japenese lunch kits, lunch tina like my European families. Love how u showed the many levels of change!

13 years ago

Hello Beth,
I hear your frustrations at some restaurants refusing to fill your containers. I had done some thinking about this – since I bring my own containers to the Whole Foods bulk bins. I fill my big container with oats – sometimes the scoop touches the inside of the container, sometimes it touches oats that have touched the inside of my container. I mean, I know my container is clean… however what if someone brought in some sneezed-on bacteria and booger ridden container? (o; Seriously, though that thought has never stopped me. But, I wonder if that is the reason for some restauraunts refusing your home brought container citing health code?
I could think of several ways they could mitigate contamination -like having a washable intermediary container to measure out the product and then put it in your container (it would be washed b-4 the next customer).
OK, thanks,

13 years ago

This is such a great post. Working for Borden Communications and Lisa Borden in particular, has opened up my eyes to all the little things that we can do in this world to make a difference. Before I started working here two years ago, i didn’t even know what the word “eco” meant.. now i don’t leave home without RuMe’s ( in my purse, my Klean Kanteens ( for water and hot beverages, and my Laptop Lunch ( to bring my lunch to work everyday. These things seem like a lot to some of my friends, but it has just become habit for me. It’s as easy now as remembering to brush my teeth in the morning! it’s just what i do. I still have a looooong way to go, but i know that just by doing a little bit at a time, I am making a difference.

13 years ago

The pointing and laughing thing, that’s the biggest and earliest hurdle for anyone that wants to make a radical change in their behavior as consumers. Moving half way across the world has helped us realize how many entrenched conceptions of normal we all have. Catherine was initially surprised to see that washing the family car is ‘women’s work’ here. The old men on the sunny bench thought that me wheeling a grocery cart down the street was hilarious.

They have recyclables pickup here now, but a few years ago there were only drop off sites on the outskirts of the villages. I saved up bottles and cans for a month or so and I could feel the eyes upon me as I carried my big bag of ‘garbage’ through 2km of busy streets.

We can’t let worries of being thought of as weird stop us from acting in ways that we feel are right.

13 years ago

Dear Mosquito, :)
Thank you for yet another great post! I recently purchased that handy tiffin and cloth carrier bag from to-go-ware for take outs and left overs at restaurants. Finally, I’ve become fairly consistent in requesting that drinks come without a straw. Go,me! So that’s two steps forward. Here’s the step back. Last night was our first trip out to eat following my to-go-ware purchase. Walking in to the restaurant I realized I’d left the tiffin at home. Big sigh. Bigger sigh when paying the check and looking at all that leftover food which (as the natural consequence) I had to walk away from, resolved not to accept one more piece of styrofoam.. This is exactly how I trained myself to bring re-usable mugs and water containers so I know next time I’ll remember…Two buzzes forward, one buzz back, following your great leadership all the way! Love this line from Pole Dancer, a poem by Andrea Gibson, “Trust me, I’ve been practicing my ripple.” One person definitely makes a difference. Your blog Beth proves that every day. Big, big ripples.

Leslie @LaMamaNaturale
13 years ago

What a great article, Beth!! Linked up to you in today’s post. :)

13 years ago

Wow, this is a fantastic and inspiring post. I sense a bright future for an ebook manifesto on living plastic free! :) Thank you for sharing such great info with us! Your actions are very motivational, we hope to spread your influence within our community! :) Viva la transition!

Logan Smith
Portland, OR

Debra Baida
13 years ago

Reusers unite! What a great post, Beth, and just like you, I’m glad I’m not alone! Maybe this mosquito-ism will help me get a better perspective on those that like buzzing my ear in the middle of the night!

John Costigane
13 years ago

Using containers, or buying unpackaged items, works when you explain the reasons. All my regular shops accept the approach though other consumers have not followed suit. Places which do not allow containers are in my blacklist.

After being a lone reusable bag user in supermarkets 18 months ago, they are now in abundance every shopping trip. Things are improving and will continue in this vein. Who can stop it?

13 years ago

Chickeescout, I have a similar problem – our coop remodeled and the new bins have pour spouts. A bunch of my old tins are too tall to use.

So I’ve started having a couple containers I know are the right size, and are already labeled with the tare (I use metal cookie tins usually, or those giant plastic tubs my grandma bought margarine in), fill them up, and then pour them in the right container at home and wipe out the container I take to the store & put it back in the cupboard to reuse next week.

It takes up a little more space but I kept being really frustrated by getting to the coop & my jar that i have always used for lentils being too tall to fill.

13 years ago

One thing that’s annoying about Whole Foods, though — at least the Fort Collins, CO Whole Foods — is that they can’t do tare weight for a container that weighs 1 lb or more — which means I can’t bring my 6 c. size ball jars for things like rice, lentils, honey…

Not sure why that is.

13 years ago

Eleanor, I live in Jacksonville, so I can relate to your envy. But I figure environmentalists in North Florida are like gays in the military. Can’t imagine why we’d want to be here, but we are so desperately needed.

I keep my stainless tiffins in the car, and if I have leftovers and have forgotten to bring one in, I make a trip out to get it. Folks at the restaurant we visit most often know us and expect it. We even get compliments. (Face it, those tiffins *are* adorable.) I love your business card idea!

Eleanor Sommer
13 years ago

I probably sound like a whiner, but I really envy all you readers who live in progressive, larger cities where you have options! The variety and number of restaurants and businesses in CA and other areas seem much more receptive and cognizant of environmental and health issues than where I live in north Florida, even though I live in a college town!

I really resonate with Lisa’s comments and ideas for TOWO. My husband and I had lunch out for Valentine’s Day and I did not finish my sandwich. I asked for a container and inquired about what I would be getting. Styrofoam, our waitstaff said. “That won’t do,” I said. “Do you have paper? Or tin foil?” She came back with a piece of tin foil.

She had no idea how dangerous Styrofoam is–from cradle to grave–and I decided to create a handout business card that details the un-safety levels of plastics, what people can use as alternatives, and Web sites to consult for purchasing other options.

Hopefully, they will be printed soon!

Lara S.
13 years ago

Great post, Beth!!
I bring my own bags almost every time I shop, but it’s harder for me to take my own containers because I sometimes feel embarrased about it and don’t always have suitable containers available. I usually bring jars to buy whole rice, lentils, honey, baking soda, almonds and raisins, or take out food from a chinese vegetarian place. What bugs me is buying cheese or some fragile fruits like grapes, which the sellers automatically wrap in plastic to “protect” them.
Here in Argentina it is kind of accepted to bring your own bag to the supermarket or grocery store, but people geet surprised when you do it while buying clothes or other things. And I think I’m the only one taking containers anywhere here… for now!

13 years ago

I need to spend more time in here, to remind myself it’s not just me who feels this way. Great post, and great comments! I actually find it amusing to see peoples reactions, even just by bringing a Klean Kanteen to a Cafe. I have hopes that gestures like these will one day appear “normal”. And people won’t bat an eyelid. The only way it will, is if we continue to pave the way!

Whenever you find yourself on the side of Majority- it
is time to pause and reflect -Mark Twain

13 years ago

sorry, I left out an important phrase – I don’t usually drive but I wrap silverware in cloth napkins and take those *in my shoulder bag* when we go out, or in the summer leave a set in a takeout container in the Burley.

13 years ago

I try to always take containers, and if we’re eating at one of the many awesome tiny local restaurants that uses styrofoam, I take my own plate – we have cafeteria-style separated plates from the thrift store. I don’t usually drive but i wrap up silverware (75 cents/set at the thrift store) in cloth napkins & take those.

I have had some staff people just not get it – transfer my meal onto styrofoam and then onto my plate, or say they can’t for health code reasons. But I generally just say “I won’t buy anything that uses styrofoam” and that works, even when we don’t have much language in common.

What I find really dispiriting is that my friends and other customers seem to think I’m some sort of extreme eco-freak. So they compliment me on bringing my own stuff, pat themselves on the back for saying so, and don’t change their behavior at all.

shona~LALA dex press
13 years ago

I’m totally on board with you, but let me tell you a little story about an odd encounter I recently had. A co-worker was going out for coffee, I asked her to get me some + handed her my metal travel mug. She questioned my handing it to her and asked in a WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITH THIS way “you expect me to take you mug and ask them to fill it?” “yep!” “That’s like taking your own plate and silverware into a restaurant,” looking around at the people witnessing this exchange like AM I RIGHT GUYS? I told her that it’s common practice and most places, including Starbucks (which she frequents every morning), in fact a lot of places will even take money off the total. This was all news to her, but when I told her that she could save money I could see the light bulb turn on.

Lisa @Retro Housewife Goes Green
13 years ago

Great post Beth! I guess I’m kind of odd cause I like being the “eco-freak” lol. Of course I was raised (and homeschooled) by a mom that told my brother and I anytime we left the house “If you can’t be good be interesting.” This is something we took to heart. I was also in a homeschool group were most families were your stereotypical homeschoolers so I was always different and at this point in my life I would rather be different. :)

Plus in my rural town in Oklahoma doing pretty much anything environmental makes you an “eco-freak” so why try not to be? lol

Oh and thanks for the link Beth!

Lisa Borden
13 years ago

Thanks for the reverse inspiration Beth! You have put together a post that is so exceptional and offers such great perspective. Thank you! My lime green mosquito is my life and business mascot – I’m delighted and honoured to be able to buzz around alongside you! :)

13 years ago

I realize that each time I use my own reusable containers I’m not necessarily engaging in an earth-shattering activity, but I do believe there *is* a collective effect. Every time I use my own in public (UMOP?!), there’s a chance that Someone Will Notice. And if that someone never considered bringing their own reusable containers before, maybe they’ll think about it now. And if a growing number of someones begin using their own in public, they in turn can inspire more someones. Eventually perhaps we’ll get to a point where using your own (and not just in grocery stores) will just become the norm. Businesses I frequent are slowly getting the message. Our favorite chili place no longer offers us plastic utensils or straws and use compostable bowls for take-out. Our breakfast hangout wait-staff now take back our unused straws.

It’s also a soft sell. I am not actively condemning or judging others, just making a personal choice. If I use containers that are attractive or unusual, they usually elicit comments. Reactions are generally very positive: “what a good idea” or “what a neat bag!” or “I need to try that.” That’s certainly the reaction I often have to this blog!

My favorite reaction was this weekend at at Chinese restaurant. Brought my own take-out containers for our leftovers, all wrapped up in a furoshiki ( The waitress saw it and cooed, “Ooh, how pretty! It looks like a little present! I want to do that…” And maybe she will, and maybe someone will see *her*.

Disclaimer: I live in southern California, which might be part of the reason people don’t point and laugh when I UMOP–YMMV.

13 years ago

I think it is a Convenience not and not an inconvenience to bring my own Take out paraphanelia- ever had a leaky soup cup drip all the way home? Saves the proprieter of stores I visit. Mark, Owner of the Burien Press coffee shop says- saves them money on having to dole out 2 cups and a lid everytime I show up with my muggsly, (2 cups? They use a second cup instead of one of those cardboard hot pads for their coffee- I have ask Mark why- he said they are so expensive – he buys in quantity- and since he uses earth friensly paper cups that go into the compost bins, he figures just give them two cups) ALso he always asks for here or to go- If they say HERE they get their delicious coffee or tea beverage in real cup! Anyway I digress. I have laready wuit going to the pet pantry in Burien as they will not fill my own containers. Health Reasons was the reason I was given. I so shop at Eat Local, a local store that sells take out. There you put a deposit on an anchor glass casserole with lid and take it home with delicous frozen food in it, bring it back the next time! Works for me! I am eating Coc Au Vin for lunch tonight at work!

13 years ago

Also, about the glass straws – Glass Dharma sells a few different kinds, one of them a chubby straw. My kids love to drink out of them to watch their drink fly up the straw. I also have no problem keeping them clean, they have a scrub brush for them. And I drink smoothies, too! They go through the dishwasher no problem. And I can see with the glass straws if they are clean or not. Haven’t had an issue with breaking or my kids biting on them. :)

13 years ago

Hey, I’m buzzing right along with you. I appreciate your link to my post on glass straws, funny since it was YOU that brought glass straws to MY attention! I am all about the little changes that add up along the way. Today my little girl had a friend over, and with their lunch she proudly pulled out the glass straws for their chocolate milk. The friend said “GLASS straws?” and the conversation began about why it is important. Hopefully a seed was planted. You are right, we are in a mess, it will take ALOT to change it, so we need to really work on educating our children, as well as adults.
Buzz on, Beth!

13 years ago

I figure, when they hand me 15,000 paper serviettes, that I must look like a particularly messy eater! *lol*

Seriously, though, I think one person really can make a difference. Ideas and change have to start somewhere, after all.

Somewhere along the line, someone thought it was a good idea to bring a reusable bag to the supermarket (it was ME, 15 years ago!!!), and now they are taking over as the standard. Sure, this is a tiny change, but everything starts with small changes.

Maybe we need to make a small change for Lent – to refuse plastic cutlery next, all of us!

Anita Kaiser
13 years ago

Great Post and funny enough I had seen the towo campaign through the ever bamboo site – but didn’t realize Lisa was a part of it. Pleased becasue both of those women are Canadians!
I talk about your blog all the time at my store with customers and am always amazed when folks don’t know who you are……………….working on spreading the word so that all of us mosquitos can grow into a mass!

13 years ago

Of course personal actions make a difference.

They make a difference in your personal life, in so far as you feel better about your actions and the broader implications of your actions. You have beliefs, and rather than throwing in the towel, declaring the problems to be systemic and that you can’t make a difference, you are living according to your beliefs. I’m guessing your peace of mind increased drastically once you started living according to your own belief system.

Part of that belief system, if I may be so bold, appears to be sharing information with others, presenting people with information and stories of your experience in the hopes that they will become empowered to likewise perform personal actions and live according to their beliefs. Your personal action of describing your plastic-free activities here has led to a great number of other personal actions – drops in a bucket, but the bucket is filling up (in a good way).

And even if all of the above conjecture is complete hooey – your personal actions, attempts at plastic free living and describing them on this blog, has made a difference in my life. You’ve given me ideas and the courage to try things I might not otherwise have known about. To me, that is a HUGE difference.

If each one of us performed a single personal action that had that kind of effect on another person, the entire world would change. Case in point – it is changing.

So thank you for your personal actions. They have already changed the world, and will continue to do so.

susanna eve
13 years ago

There are also metal reusable straws:) I wanted glass ones for solstice but my mom refused to by them for me convinced that they would break:( So I asked for metal ones. I find them kind of weird to drink out of by my daughter who loves straws, uses them happily in the house and I have used one for a smoothie.
In terms of whether or not an individual’s actions make a difference, I figure it sets an example and plants seeds in people’s minds. My local branch of a large grocery store chain has been plastic shopping bag free for more than a year, they sell cloth bags for a dollar (they are made of out partly recycled materials too) if you need one and I now see all kinds of people show up there with their reusable bags. Now if I could just get my teenager to stop bringing plastic shopping bags home:(
I also follow that rule about doing without if I forget reusables for things like coffee and tea but will buy my daughter the very rare bottle of water if we forget her bottle at home rather than have her go thirsty if there is no fountain or bathroom around. I love the metal bottle I have for her, it’s insulated and keeps the water really cold and as a result she drinks more water when it’s hot out because the water stays cold for a long time too.
I do carry some plastic reusable items because when I am carrying stuff for 2 or 3 people, it gets heavy for me otherwise.

13 years ago

I absolutely LOVE that mosquito quote (I love it enough to finally stop lurking and comment!) I definitely think that will become my motto.

As for individual efforts having a large effect I can say that your blog helps me question a lot of my everyday lifestyle choices. I then talk to my family and co-workers about the information I pick up and the circle widens.
From my own experiences I know that it can be awkward to go against the grain of society but I found that persevering with my re-usable grocery bags at my local store has helped me to “train” the staff there!!
They no longer panic when they see the bags! It took a while but its worth it; now that I have them used to the concept I will have to branch out to other stores to spread the effect :)

13 years ago

I admire you for your mosquito-ness.

And I like the idea of just doing without if you forget your re-usables. I can think of few better ways to remind myself. I think I will implement that one, myself.

13 years ago

@Kerri: I got my mom a glass straw from Glass Dharma for her birthday b/c she makes a lot of smoothies, and she LOVES it due to the cleanliness reason. Before, she’d go through 2 or 3 plastic straws a week b/c honestly, you can only rinse plastic straws a few times before they get all funky. Now, she uses the glass one over and over and has stopped hoarding plastic straws from gas stations and restaurants.

Beth. For Valentine’s Day I bought my boyfriend ice cream. Went to a local ice cream store and brought one of those Pyrex pint-sized containers with me. I made my boyfriend go with me b/c I was scared that I’d get weird looks, etc. The owner was thrilled, but the ice cream staffer helping was puzzled. He ended up trying to smoosh the lid on top before I could say something, and some of the ice cream goodness dripped down the sides. But, it was fine once I wrapped it in a cloth napkin. MORAL OF STORY: the ice cream post inspired even this shy 20-something to sacrifice a spoonful of ice cream and endure some red-facedness in the name of trying to be sustainable! and maybe next time I’ll do it the day before by myself and surprise him. (maybe.)

13 years ago

I wish I was a mosquito ;) My husband and I have differing ideas on what and how much should be recycled much less taking our own containers. I must be making a bit of headway though because today he told me he saw some things that you can use on your toilet to do a half flush and a full flush. Perhaps I can be the mosquito. Great post Beth!

13 years ago

I do feel like individual actions can lead to greater societal acceptance, which in turn leads to change in company policy.

Case in point: a couple of years ago I bought a couple of clothing items at Old Navy, and tried to refuse the plastic shopping bag. I was told that they absolutely could not allow me to put my purchases in my shoulder bag because it was against their “loss prevention” protocols. Of course my response was, “But I’ll have a receipt if anyone questions me!” I went around and around with the cashier and finally got her to acquiesce. Fast forward to today — I can refuse the plastic bag at Old Navy and put my purchases into my own bag without any kind of questioning or resistance. To me, this is an example of how bag reuse (especially in grocery stores) has been mainstreamed to the point where it’s much more readily accepted. I hope that container reuse with food service will become mainstreamed this way, too!

13 years ago

The last straw for me is the straw. I’m curious about the glass ones. I’ve tried reusing plastic ones, but can not figure out how to clean the darn things! Am I missing something? This is the only reusable item that I’m puzzled about in terms of cleanliness.