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Silicon Valley Food: Spare the Bags

It’s time to stop using bags and start recycling or food containers—even takeout

ONCE you start paying attention to something you see it everywhere or hear about it all the time? Lately, for example, I’ve become interested in Volkswagen Westphalia syncro camper vans. They’re typical VW camper vans except they have four-wheel drive and are built on a heavy-duty, military-style chassis. They are the ultimate Baja surf-expedition vehicle. Anyway, even though they are somewhat rare, now that I’m clued into them, I see a few of the burly vans every week.

There’s something else I’ve been paying attention, too, and it truly is everywhere: needless, wasteful packaging. Ironically, there’s so much of this landfill- and ocean-bound trash it’s almost become invisible. The trash is particularly evident around what we eat and drink. Stop for a minute and observe how much food is wrapped in plastic. It’s the norm. It’s food. Of course, it’s wrapped in petroleum-based, cancer-causing, ocean- and earth-fouling plastic.

Why does this matter? Well, there’s the fact that the Pacific garbage patch, a swirling bird-and-mammal-killing mass of plastic and trash larger than the state of Texas, menaces the Pacific Ocean and grows larger by the day. There’s the fact that the production of plastic is highly toxic to humans (especially human babies) and all other creatures. And there’s the fact that plastic persists in the environment indefinitely. As in forever.

All of which is a roundabout of saying you should check out, a personal, often funny blog about how one woman—Santa Cruz’s Ellis Hepburn—is seeking to create a packaging-free life and a zero-waste kitchen. “We decided to change the way we shop, how we eat, and ultimately, how we live,” she writes. “It’s going to be an interesting change for us and we will certainly have to be weaned off the teat of convenience but the goal is to minimize our (family’s) impact on the environment. Our objective is to have a zero-waste kitchen and no longer purchase anything packaged.”

There are lots of tips on the blog and interesting experiments (like how long it take for a McDonald’s hamburger and fries to decompose; short answer: a frighteningly long time). The gist of the blog is about buying things in bulk and using reusable containers and bags. That’s not so hard.

Bringing your own canvas bags to the grocery store is a good start. I, for one, am starting to tote my own containers into restaurants for takeout food. As a restaurant critic, I get a lot of food to go, and it almost always comes in plastic or Styrofoam. Is there anything more egregiously wasteful than scooping food into a container at a restaurant only to toss it into the trash a few hours or days later and have it sit in a dump or ocean for eternity? (Yes, sadly there are more wasteful things. See: U.S. military.)

My leftover pad thai isn’t worth all that. Now I have my eyes on a nice set of reusable stainless-steel containers for all my leftover lunches. Check out for tips on how to reduce restaurant waste.

We’re choking on so much plastic and trash because we’ve decided it’s normal. Or perhaps we’ve forgotten to notice. It’s time to wake and notice. Wrapping the planet in toxic materials that will stick with us forever is definitely not normal. It is insane. Literally. Paper or plastic? How about neither?