There are a number of ways that you can reduce waste as you dine out at restaurants or head to a café for a warm drink in the cold weather. Reducing waste (the principal of baal tashchit) is a core value in Judaism and can go a long way toward helping the environment, especially added up over time.
Consider ways to reduce paper cup waste: Take a thermos with you when you order coffee in a coffee shop, indicate that your order is “for here” and ask for the mug rather than the paper cup. You can then pour the coffee into your thermos. Also consider brewing your own coffee at home to take along in a thermos. Either of these approaches will reduce the amount of paper being thrown in a landfill.
Reduce waste at a restaurant by sharing meals and avoiding extras: According to a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, diners don’t finish 17 percent of restaurant meals. Fifty-five percent of that plate waste doesn’t get taken home, and for the food that does get boxed up, 38 percent never gets eaten. To eliminate the problem of food waste at a restaurant, consider sharing a meal if you know portions are large, and avoid an extra side dish that comes with your meal if you know you won’t eat it.
Bring your own container for restaurant leftovers: Sad to say, there are still many restaurants that use leftovers containers that can’t be recycled and that don’t break down in landfills (such as Styrofoam). If you expect you will have leftovers after your restaurant meal, get in the habit of bringing your own reusable container and use it to put your leftovers in that container.
Dine and drink at “Green” establishments: Many urban areas now have a process for rating restaurants in terms of their environmental sustainability. In St. Louis, look for a certification from the Green Dining Alliance, a program of St. Louis Earth Day. Green Dining Alliance certification means that the restaurant has been certified to demonstrate a commitment to environmentally friendly practices. This includes using local, organic and/or compostable ingredients and leaving behind a low impact trail of trash and pollution (such as by extensive use of recycling, conserving water and energy, etc). You can find a list of Green Dining Alliance restaurants at http://www.greendiningalliance.org/dine/list/. A rating system is used to indicate what St. Louis Earth Day calls “Shades of Green.”