05/08/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

7 Tasteful Tips For A Waste-Free Lunch: Take-Out Edition

Cash or credit isn't the only thing to think about when eating out! If you just don't have the time, energy or desire to pack it yourself, here are some really simple solutions for creating a waste-free lunch:

1. Use your purchasing power. Make a commitment to purchase from chains and restaurants that package their to-go's in recyclable or, better yet, compostable containers - there's absolutely no excuse for Styrofoam (a non-biodegradable item that ends up in the landfill or waterways after just one-use - it often actually ends up in the stomachs of birds after they eat it, thinking that the buoyant pebbles are food).

2. Make mine "Eco To Go!" While most restaurants are unable to use your container to pack their food in (but some do, so you can try), you can definitely say "thanks, but no thanks" to disposable utensils and the stack of paper napkins. By ordering "Eco To Go" you are letting the restaurant know that you only want your food in it's container and the bag. I would encourage you to ditch the bag or bring your own as well, but currently the "Eco To Go" movement does include a bag.

3. Keep utensils and a cloth napkin deskside. This goes hand-in-hand with ordering "Eco To Go" - you'll clearly need something to eat with when refusing petrochemical-derived, single-use disposables! Since sixty-four percent of the waste created by fast food restaurants is paper and plastic from their packaging, keeping a set of silverware and a cloth napkin at your desk, means that ordering "Eco To Go" will save thousands of plastic and paper items from becoming trash - it takes over 1,000 years for plastic to decompose and both are very resource intensive to create.

4. Stock up on condiments at work. Do you really need the sauces and salt & pepper packets that come individually wrapped with each order? For starters, take only what you are actually going to use and encourage your office to get them for the communal area or just bring a set in for yourself. Then you can also make sure you are getting the good stuff!

5. Bring your own containers. If dining in rather than taking out, try to remember your own containers for when you need to "doggie bag it." As long as you're packaging your own food, most restaurants will allow you to use your own to-go containers.

6. And always, always carry your reusable coffee mug.
When running out for that caffeine call - my rule is that if I didn't remember my mug, I don't get a steamy beverage. If that is too harsh, at least keep a cup kozy on hand to avoid those needless cardboard sleeves.

Transforming your take-out routine is a simple way to ease into a more sustainable lifestyle. Small changes add up over the course of 365 days, and if we all made a conscientious effort in just this one area of our day, we would literally eliminate billions of tons of waste.

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