Restaurant take-out

This report was occasioned by reading about a new, complicated “green” way to avoid wasteful plastic foam or other one-way plastic or cardboard boxes used for boxing up uneaten food at restaurants. It also applies to purposeful take-out containers at fast food places.

For many years, I have solved this simple problem in a simple way. I have a few stacked plastic containers that live in the back of my car. When I need a take out package, I bring the plastic dishes into the store with me and use them. When I get home, I eat or transfer the food and wash out the plastic container. Then I replace it in my car. The containers, which can be reclosable packaging from any number of standard foods, cost nothing. Or, if you want more robust plastic ware, you can get rugged polyethylene containers for under five dollars per set at any supermarket. If you don’t destroy them somehow, they may last you the rest of your life.

This simple way apparently requires too much responsibility (yuk! you actually need to wash out your own container!) so the Faux Fake Zero Waste Greenwashing establishment has found a way to make the whole process more complicated and expensive. Hurrah for free enterprise!

According to the announcement by the official Oakland recyclers, GO BOX works this way:

After signing up for a GO Box subscription for just $29 a year (only $2.49 a month), members will receive a digital token via their email or smartphone. Subscribers present the token when they place an order at a participating restaurant, and their meal is served in a BPA-free, reusable plastic clamshell container. Once they’ve finished their meal, members return the empty GO Box container to one of the company’s drop-off sites and receive a token for their next meal. (see entire prospectus)

For anyone reading this in the next century, BPA-free is jargon for the latest, top of the line, nontoxic plastic. (Polyethylene is intrinsically free of bis-phenol-A (BPA) because that is not used in its manufacture.)

First you need to shell out $29 every year. Then you get a DIGITAL token which means you have to notice it, turn on your printer, print it and save it for the next time you need it. If you forget it, or your printer is down, you’re out of luck, just like if I forget to bring in my dish. Or maybe you carry the token in your smartphone but then how does the restaurant get credit for its box? I’m sure there’s some involved computer based way.

Now, instead of having to wash out a container at home, you have to get in your car and drive over to one of “the company’s drop-off sites” to deposit your physical (note: NOT Digital) container. If you’re lucky, that will be in the same county and less than a half-hour drive in traffic. Five bucks worth of gas if you manage not to run over a dog, argue with a tree and the transmission doesn’t drop out.  If you’re that lucky, maybe the restaurant won’t have used up its supply of BPA free dishes when you need one. This is so damned green, why didn’t I think of it.

Then you get another token. Now you can see why this costs $29 a year. There is software, numerous drop-off sites in convenient, high-rent areas, operators, container washers and their automatic dishwashing machines, managers, staff to take your container, white vans with logos on them to bring the excess dishes from all the drop-off sites to all the participating restaurants, and PROFIT. Don’t forget profit.

What a waste of resources!

All to avoid washing your own container and putting it back in your car.

This is typical greenwashing. All sizzle and no steak.
For a deeper discussion of alternatives, check this out.

Do you see now why green washing is a phony propaganda campaign designed to slip your hard earned money out of your pocket while making you feel vaguely good about being fleeced?

The final insult in all these machinations – the official recyclers from Oakland swallow it hook line and sinker and actually publicize this wasteful nonsense for this wasteful company. Would it kill them to use the analytic side of their brains for once?

COMMENT from Oct. 2020 – A Google search on GOBOX suggests that all the Bay Area applications have vanished and the scheme is only still found in Portland OR. There is no real clarity in the reporting. An app is offered on Google Playstore but there is no indication that it can be used anywhere.

3 thoughts on “Restaurant take-out”

  1. You seem to be very dismissive of a concerted effort to improve things, without suggesting very much as an alternative. I came across GoBox because i was trying to find out if anyone is doing anything to try and tackle this issue – which has bothered me for some time – and I think their solution is worth exploring. First of all, let me make a few points on your rant:

    Great idea taking plastic containers with you, but there are a few problems with this:
    1) You’ve got to remember to bring them with you.
    2) You’ve got to be travelling in a way that allows you to easily have space for these things. You drive everywhere, but not everybody does, and do you really think it makes sense to be carrying around empty tupperware in your bag as you walk, cycle or take public transport just in case you decide to take some food home with you?
    3) When you get to the restaurant, how is the food served to you? Do you call ahead and ask them to put your take away order onto normal plates and have it ready for you when you arrive, hoping they don’t get incredibly confused in the process? Or do you just take the styrofoam or plastic containers they give you by default, empty them into your reusable containers to make yourself feel better and let the retailer throw them away for you?
    4) What about deliveries? Out of the question with your method.

    Then after claiming how easy it is to wash and carry plastic containers with you at all times, you construct a fantasy about how you need to print out some coupon in order to use this service. The whole point of using software for this is that you generally have a phone with you so don’t need to remember to bring anything with you from home. And the idea that somebody who contributes to a site called the Zero Waste Institute would be needlessly printing out things is risible. You may not understand software, but if you want to eliminate waste, you’d better make space for it in your world view.

    Finally, there’s deliveries. Occasionally, i don’t feel like cooking so we treat ourselves to a food delivery. A typical Chinese meal will contain 3-6 plastic containers. We save and reuse these but as you say, they last a long time and we’ve got as many as we need now. If however there was some reusable container scheme, and we chose to only order from those establishments that use them, we could simply give them back to the delivery person when they next deliver food. This not only vastly reduces the wastefulness of such a purchase but it creates some for of lock-in between us and the vendor, which is an incentive for them to support the scheme.

    So next time you accuse somebody attempting to be proactive about waste, go easy on the smug hyperbole and accusations of greenwashing until you can actually come up with something that works for situations other than your narrow use case.

  2. Elroid:
    About a year ago you commented on my WordPress website at You’ve probably forgotten so here is the first paragraph.
    “You seem to be very dismissive of a concerted effort to improve things, without suggesting very much as an alternative.…”
    First of all, this is some kind of joke, right? No alternative. All you find on this site is alternative. In fact, that is the essence of the dismissiveness you refer to. I find the entire way of handling resources in this country, in this part of the planet, and by slavish copying most of the planet, to be insane and I provide the exact alternative that is needed. Design for perpetual use, not design for discard.
    Perhaps you find it not productive for me to not come up with an instant, magical solution, ready to use right out of the box, with no need for anyone to do any work. For many projects, I give at least a try, to show the direction, but in all cases, research by knowledgeable designers, scientists, engineers will be needed to find a best design and then to improve it with time.
    You choose to focus on carrying dishes and come up with all kinds of problems with that. Do you realize that I am proposing a way for a powerless, single citizen of an insanely wasteful culture to just take a step. A baby step. Not perfection. Not a magic answer. Just a desperate step which is better than the world of styrofoam we live in.
    In order to apply my suggestion at all, in a reasonable way in a reasonable world, it would not be one person against a culture of waste, it would require a societal shift to reusable containers. Unlike your imagining, it would not be one tiny change going up against a fully formed culture of waste like a grain of sand in an oyster trying to become a pearl. The whole society would switch around to take it for granted that all carrying would be done with reusable containers and anyone who tried to use a one-time discardable system (yukk!) would be swimming against the tide and would find no support in the sustainable society. The glove would be entirely on the other hand.
    Now, given that complete changeover to a system wide acceptance of reusable containers, can you see the answers to your imagined problems? I can. None of your problems are insoluble. Of course there would not be that obsessive compulsion for lazy convenience above all other values. Yes, that might be hard for some people who grew up in the discard culture to deal with. But soon everyone would just take it for granted. If it takes a little more work than garbage, we would just accept that. Every problem would be fitted with a solution in the new paradigm.
    Test yourself, whether you can put yourself into that new mindset and see if you can figure out how all of the problems you imagine would be solved. Why should I do all the work?
    Paul Palmer

  3. Sorry to be so late, just out of the blue, but I have learned to ignore comments as most of them are just spam, just selling something. I delete hundreds a week like that.

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