One of the things that fundamentally changed in the pandemic is how often we started getting take-out or delivered food. There are trade-offs to doing so, because it's often not has hot as it could be (or not hot at all), and you generally pay extra for delivery unless there's some promotion. The bummer is that for many restaurants, they're give you food in stuff that is plastic and not biodegradable. Worse yet, a lot of people live in places where, if there is recycling, the types of plastic that they'll recycle are so narrow that it's going to end up in a landfill, or maybe the ocean. But even as we return to eat in restaurants, I've noticed that many are creating plastic waste unnecessarily.
Among the brands that I enjoy the most, Pei Wei is easily the biggest offender. I love me some Asian fusion, but the way they're operating isn't great. Entrees all come in big old plastic bowls, and they're sending out plasticware that is in turn individually wrapped in plastic, even if you didn't ask for it. What's worse is that even on-premise, they're serving with all of this plastic, when they used to serve in actual bowls and with silverware that was washed. I actually wrote them about this, and they insisted that it was for reasons related to Covid, even though there is no science that suggests that real bowls and silverware are a transmission vector. I mean, were we at risk for colds and other pathogens before? Of course not. Safe handling standards for washed dishware is a long solved problem. But they're still making all of that garbage.
Chipotle does a mostly better job. At the very least, most of their packaging is sourced from recycled materials and much of it is biodegradable. In the restaurant, there's even less disposable content. More importantly though, Chipotle takes environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues seriously. That's why they're reporting on it annually, to show that they have milestones that they want to reach, and they measure their progress. This is starting to become standard practice around many companies, because their employees, customers and investors demand it. This is a great opportunity. As people recognize that money moves politics, and corporations are essentially people in the eyes of government, pressuring the companies who in turn pressure government can move along the necessary change. (I have a lot of thoughts about this, for another blog post.)
The places that we frequent mostly sit somewhere in between. I'm impressed with the Florida Tex-Mex chain Tijuana Flats because they've made some solid strides in recent years. It's not just paper straws, but they've experimented with biodegradable foam as well. I don't know if these are the right tactics, but I like that they're trying stuff.
We can all influence better outcomes by making informed choices when we buy stuff. There are way too many things you buy in the grocery store that are the worst kind of convenience packaging: bulky packages with very little product that you'll probably throw away in a place that isn't recycling.