Container Kicks

Carien Overdijk Food, Waste 21 July 2016

Can you smell it? Your nasi rames, babi pangang and chicken saté in the warm, white plastic? The sturdy containers and thin, see-through bags seem inextricably connected with Chinese food.

Since January of this year, Dutch restaurants are obliged to charge for plastic bags. As are Dutch retailers. Many Chinese restaurants in Leiden don’t yet do this. They fear angry clients. ‘Clients complain, so every now and then we give the bags away for free,’ confesses the owner of one Chinese restaurant in Leiden.

If you want to take a doggy bag home, you get the containers and plastic bags for free anyway, the owner reasons. The law allows this because it prevents food waste. So charging money for the plastic? ‘People don’t get it,’ he says.

But in Rotterdam, it is possible. At downtown Tai Wu’s. Since January they’ve been charging ten cents for a bag and twenty cents for a container to take home leftovers. That’s doubly sustainable. No unnecessary food waste, and a reminder to customers that plastic comes at a price.

Tai Wu waitress Lykien says that nobody has flipped out yet. ‘People understand. We always ask customers if they want to take the leftovers home before we make up the bill. If so, we tell them the costs for packaging straightaway. Some people reply with: just put everything in one container. Or: I don’t need a bag.’

Every single bag or container less means gain for the environment. The polypropylene containers are recyclable but most people still don’t separate their plastic waste. So most of that synthetic material ends up as fuel in the fires of the rubbish dump, causing extra harm to the environment.
But even if you reuse the containers at home (recommended!) and then dump them into one of Leiden’s plastic-recycling containers, they will still produce unnecessary CO2. Because recycling uses up energy too.

BYO containers
According to the Vereniging van Chinese Horeca Ondernemers (Chinese Restaurant Owners’ Union), the plastic containers are inevitable. ‘Because people who go out for dinner aren’t likely to bring their own food storage materials.’
Fellow citizens, let’s prove them wrong! Get inspired by the packaging-free shop in the former V&D (a pop-up until the end of September). For a laugh, take your own container along to your local Chinese, Thai or any other place where the portions are too large. Enjoy the look of surprise on the staff’s face and the well-deserved kick you’ll feel. Good going!

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