Zero Waste Eating & Drinking on the go with only 6 utensils!

German: Die deutsche Version dieses Artikels erscheint auf Zero Waste Austria. Vielen Dank für die Veröffentlichung! Hier geht es zum Artikel.

Eating and drinking on the way: In this article, I show you how to eat and drink on the go with the use of only six utensils – I bet you have most of them at home already!

Overflowing rubbish bins full of (half) empty takeaway boxes, plastic straws and to-go cups, wrapped in plastic bags: That’s what I see when visiting a streetfood market in Thailand. Looks not only unattractive, but also causes a number of problems for city councils, people and the environment.

Due to the large volume of To-Go packaging, more frequent removal is necessary. It is not always easy to correctly dispose of packaging for take-away food: Where should you put your To-Go cup when all the rubbish bins are already overflowing? And how do you actually recycle a polystyrene box or a coated Asia noodle box? The immense consumption of disposable packaging by take-away has a high impact on our environment and recycling schemes, as not only this title photo shows.

Does a zero-waster have to live without coffee to go and take-away food? Not at all! This article will show you how to avoid waste while eating and drinking on the go. I will also discuss the issue of to-go food and the pace of live as well as what I think about the role of biodegradable plastic and other materials. Afterwards, you find the lists with 6 utensils you need for Zero Waste eating and drinking.

Take Away = fast pace


In general, I prefer eating and drinking at home, where I have time to sit down and enjoy!

Eating and drinking on the road is becoming increasingly popular around the world. It’s comfortable, easy to go and so it suits the taste of the broad masses. But at the same time it makes our whole life faster and faster. The coffee that used to be drunk comfortably at the breakfast table or in the coffee house is now quickly sipped in paper cups in the subway or bus.

Especially Zero Wasters critically question the trend towards To-Go food. I’m also not a fan of fast food and drink on the way, as I like to take time to cook and enjoy a meal (see photo).

Nevertheless, I also sometimes take food with me, for example from the hawkers stall or restaurant to the beach on holiday. For me, it is important to take my time and enjoy meals. No matter how you eat or drink, concentrate on it and put the smartphone or your work briefly aside. This way you can effectively relax even in a short lunchbreak.

„This is biodegradable“ – my view on bioplastics

More and more often I see people eating dishes and cutlery with so-called biodegradable plates, napkins and cutlery. In my opinion, however, this is not an optimal solutionregarding the environmental impact of to-go packaging. Why?

1) The material may change, but people’s mindset not. Many people may have a better conscience if their disposable tableware is made of corn starch instead of plastic or polystyrene. But the action and mentality remains the same: eat quickly and throw away. This also contributes to the low value people place on food especially in Western countries.

2. Disposable tableware made of „natural raw materials“ also consumes resources, which cannot be justified in any way by the short period of use of fifteen or thirty minutes for a meal. These resources are often lacking elsewhere, which has serious ethical and environmental consequences. For example, biodegradable plastic utensils are often made from corn starch or sugar cane. As a result, people who need these foods no longer have access to them due to increased prices. In addition, more land is needed to grow maize, sugar, etc., which can contribute to the disappearance of ecosystems.

-> For plastic objects that have a long useful life and/or for which there is currently no alternative, such as sports equipment, children’s toys or disposable plastic objects for medical purposes, I see bioplastics as a good alternative. however, we have the choice to  replace disposable items with a short useful life such as plastic plates and disposable bags by small changes in our behaviour without any problems. All you need are six utensils!

Drinking on the road

1. Bring your bottle of water!

When? It is always important to have enough water at hand!

This is essential especially if you are travelling or working outside can’t fill up your water all the time. For trips and excursions, choose a large bottle that holds at least one litre. Smaller bottles are good for work and home. It’s best to use a bottle made of glass or  stainless steel. I currently use a thermos flask that keeps my water cool even in tropical climate.
-> So you can always drink enough on the way. You save money and save the environment from many disposable plastic bottles.
Tip: Tea or water with fruit slices provides for variety and is still much healthier and more varied than bought limo!

2. Bring a big cup with you!


Latte Macchiato looks great and stays warm in this reusable cup

When? Whenever you want to drink something on the way, visit a cafe or a smoothie bar! Particularly practical for coffee to go, smoothies or milkshakes. Also great for festivals or parties when you are not provided with reusable cups.

At every corner in Thailand you find shawkers selling smoothies or fruit shakes. And in Austria, too, creative (albeit often very sweet) creations made from coffee, syrup or smoothies are becoming increasingly popular. Many coffee shops even serve their coffee in plastic to-go cups when you sit down at the café!
A coffee-to-go cup should be tightly sealable and big enough for all your favourite drinks. A cup that holds at least 0.5 l is best for a coffee/smoothie lover.

Pay attention to the material of your cup: Stainless steel cups keep drinks warm or cool better than bamboo cups. Not all cups are suitable for hot liquids. So invest a little more money in a good cup if you really need it.
I also like to take a small spoon with me as I prefer to spoon smoothies instead of drinking them. Other people prefer straws – here you have the choice between many different models (see point 4).

-> So you can buy any drink you like on the way. More and more often coffee shops give you discounts if you come with your own cup.

3. Alternatives for straw users
When? Whenever you want to go for a drink – especially important in the bar

Water, mojito or my beloved fresh coconut – not only in Thailand many drinks come with a plastic straw. So I always say „no straw, please!“, no matter if I am in a restaurant or to-go (see also my article about straws). Sometimes that the waiters bring you straws anyway. In this case I take the straw out of the drink, give it to the waitress/waiter and explain why I don’t want a straw. Even if I cannot avoid the straw instantly then, it is important. If all of us do, restaurants and bars will stop serving drinks with straws!
I’m not a fan of straws, so I never have the Zero Waste version with me. If you like, you’ll find a wide range of alternatives: bamboo, glass, stainless steel, silicone,… Just choose a model that suits you and is easy to transport. Or try my version and take a small spoon from home to enjoy drinks like smoothies more slowly.
-> So you can drink with a straw without consuming more disposable plastic!


A rooftop bar in Bangkok: Already serving drinks with reusable straws – thumbs up!

4. Cocktail napkin, decoration etc…

When? This is less of a problem with to-go drinks and more common when you order cocktails in the bar. Nevertheless, I would like to mention it briefly here, as it has not yet arrived so strongly in people’s minds!

Cocktails or smoothies often come along with various decorations, umbrellas and plastic skewers. Especially the cocktail napkin is a nuisance for me. I had to explain repeatedly why I don’t want to see a piece of paper under my cocktail glass. When I order without cocktail napkin, waiters often do not understand me. So I explain my reasons (like for the straw). Try it out -you do not need the decoration. After taking a photo, you will take it out to drink anyway. I recommend using fruits as a decoration instead.

Checklist for drinking on the way

1 water bottle, large or small
1 good coffee to go cup (0,33-0,5l)
1 small spoon or 1 straw made of bamboo, stainless steel, glass or reusable plastic

Food on the go

1. Bring your own container!

When? Not only if you eat „Take-Away“, but also in the restaurant a box for food is very practical. So you can easily pack up leftovers from oversized meals and nothing goes to food waste.

It is important to choose a good container so that you can enjoy your meal on the go. The box shouldn’t be too small, so you have the free choice what to put inside. If you choose a larger container, I’ve found that sellers like to give you more food – which is perfect for people who enjoy eating a lot (like me 😉 )
A high quality stainless steel or glass container is recommended. But you can also use other containers that you already have at home. My favourite example is the cookie jar. Since it is not made of stainless steel, clean it immediately after use and dry it carefully to avoid rust and scratches! A pot with a lid is also suitable for larger quntities. And you can even use a simple plate from home if you don’t have to transport the food far.
I’ve used baking trays for pizza before – even if it’s a bit heavy. It’s easier if you cut the pizza into slices and put it in your container or use a round wooden board.

2. Think of your cutlery!


Reusable chopsticks in a small restaurant: A sustainable choice!

When? For every to-go meal and also if you eat in a fastfood or regular asian restaurant with chopsticks.

I could not stand plastic cutlery already before I started living a Zero Waste lifestyle. It is simply no fun to eat good food with cheap plastic cutlery. That’s why I always take my own cutlery with me when I know that I want to eat to go today. You don’t need any special cutlery for to-go food, even though I already saw stores advertising special bamboo cutlery. I often use my Swiss knife, a coffee spoon and a cake fork because these utensils are the lightest and smallest. With small cutlery it is also easier for you to eat slowly and consciously enjoy your food.
When I go out to eat Asian food, I always take my own chopsticks with me because usually, they are single-use and packed in plastic. However, you can wash and reuse them as often as you want! Some restaurants also offer reusable chopsticks (see photo).

3. Take a cloth napkin with you

When? Every time you eat on the go or in a restaurant!

Especially when you’re eating and drinking quickly, you might spill something on your clothes. This happens to me particularly frequently with kebab because the sauce always drips out! Especially in school time, my hands were often full of sauce afterwards – not to mention my face. The thin paper napkins, which you often get for free with your to-go meal, are not very helpful. With a good cloth napkin I can prevent such embarrassing situations and enjoy a relaxed meal on the way!

-> I also recommend to take cloth napkins with you if you go to a restaurant. Usually, they only offer paper napkins. When I see them on the table already, I give them back to the waiter/waitress and tell why I do not need them (if you just leave them on the table, the workers might throw them away after you left even though you did not use the napkins). If I have forgotten my cloth napkin, I prefer to go to the sink after dinner to wash my hands or face instead of using paper napkins. Or I request a cloth napkinin the restaurant – I usually get what I want without any problems!

Checklist for food on the way:

1 sufficiently large, tightly sealable box
1 each knife, fork and spoon or chopstick
1 cloth napkin


Opinions divide over eating and drinking on the go. I like to sit down and eat in a restaurant whenever I eat out, but if I to take my food to the beach, I have my meal packed in the box I brought with me. Just keep it waste-free and stylish!
As a Zero Waster I learned that eating and drinking on the go is very easy with the right equipment. What’s more, it’s fun and often causes admiring looks from the other people who have to use plastic stuff to eat. Share your knowledge with interested people, so we can reduce the amount of thrown away disposable plates, cutlery and to-go cups and consciously eat & drink together without producing waste!


Delicious cake on a journey in Bangkok: Tasty and Zero Waste

Enjoy everyone, and tell me about your experiences with eating to-go!

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