Dinning Out and Landfills in a Coronavirus World

Wednesday, after spending a hot, sticky, muggy, mosquito-harassed day doing equine assisted psychotherapy at our boys school, Cherokee Creek Boys School, where we have been going now for some 14 years, I decided to splurge and pamper myself a little. I went out to my local favorite Tex-Mex place here in Liberty, SC. A cold draught beers (XX Amber), AC, and Tex-Mex. I keep forgetting all the changes that restaurants have had to make to be safe and stay in business.

To put things into perspective, pretty much living a life of a hermit and alone, and being a good cook anyway, I usually prefer my own cooking. I seldom went out to dine before the pandemic. After it hit, I have since only gone out a few times. This also has to do some with trying to live more frugally and eco-friendly in my hermit lifestyle tradition.

At the restaurant, I sat down in the cool, dimly lit booth area where I like to sit–away usually from the larger dinning area–ordered my beer. It quickly came. After a few sips, I placed my order, deciding to try a new dish they had on their menu instead of my usual. Several minutes and sips later, out came the waitress with my order. She placed on my table, a styrofoam to go container that contained my food and a plastic fork. I looked at the order is disdain and disgust. If I hadn’t been drinking the beer, I would have picked up my “take-out” order and taken it home to eat.

Okay, now another bit of important background here. Trying to live a more eco-responsible lifestyle, I have quit doing business with any cafe, restaurant, or fast food, that serves with plastic and styrofoam. Plastic and styrofoam go into the landfills and just set there. It takes hundreds of years for styrofoam to decompose. Plastic even longer. You can’t recycle styrofoam. Some plastic you can thankfully. Also, as styrofoam and plastic decompose, they release toxic compounds to the surroundings, air, and eventually, water table itself. So nasty stuff.

I carry my own take-home containers as I usually can’t or don’t want to finish whole meals when eating out. I take it home in my container, which is reusable. If I don’t want it, the dogs are always willing to do their share. I also carry in my man-bag flatware and stainless steel straws. I’ve done this for some time now, but the pandemic has made me even more conscientious about doing it. I carry a set in my truck and in my bicycle trailer, as I do face masks, and hand sterilizer.

Enters the coronavirus pandemic….

The restaurants, etc., are in a real bind. I understand that. They are fighting for their very survival, as are many American and people and business worldwide. Trying to be safe for both their employees and customers, many have switched to a styrofoam/plastic serving strategy. And, even though I bring my own containers, their safety dictates that they not use them. I even had a container with me when I sat down at the restaurant, and I thought, “If I known they had switched to styrofoam and plastic, I would have asked them to put the meal in my dish. After another sip or two on my beer and thinks, I thought, no, they would not be allowed to use my container. Sigh.

This places me in a moral/ethical delimma: I do occasionally like to dine out, but I DO NOT want to contribute to non-biodegradable waste and toxins to the landfills, which are quickly filling up. I’ve decided that before I go out to dine that I will call the cafe or restaurant to see if they are serving on non-biodegradables. If they are, ask if I can bring my own containers for them to use? If they won’t or can’t, then I will pass on eating out there. I may have few choices. I know that Five Guys, Paneras’, and Whole Foods use biodegradables (paper), but that’s a pretty limited choice.

Also, paper presents another dilemma. The same as presented about using plastic bags at the grocery store. It takes more energy to produce paper products than plastic ones. I am assuming the same holds for styrofoam. So, using paper increases the greenhouse gas issue even as it lessens the plastic/styrofoam problem. Sigh, again.

Life is about compromise. Choosing the lessers of evils is not always straightforward and easy.