Saving food waste from landfill

Filed in Blog by on November 19, 2010 15 Comments
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Mrs Green saves pizza and chicken from becoming food waste

Mrs Green saves pizza and chicken from becoming food waste

Last weekend we celebrated a very special day.

Grandma Green was 21 again and she organised a party for her friends and family.

There was a hot buffet and instead of a traditional Birthday cake, Grandma Green ordered a mountain of profiteroles stuffed with cream, oozing in thick chocolate sauce, with candles on top. They were a huge hit as you might imagine.

At the end of the party I couldn’t help noticing a lot of leftover food and I was compelled to discover its fate.

Needless to say the excess food was going to be binned…

I wrestled with my conscience for a second before deciding I had to step in. I had to do my bit for the environment. What would you think of me if I sat back and watched the food be put into landfill? As a zero waste advocate for Great Britain I had a duty to perform.

So yep, you’ve guessed it, I started to pack up any food I could transport.

Luckily the pizza was on a huge aluminium foil tray and that too was going to be landfilled, so I piled on a few chicken legs and wrapped it all up in more foil that was on the serving table. Alas the casserole and chilli would have had to be taken home in my pockets and that wasn’t really a practical option. If only I could have magically rustled up a container or two from my handbag…

I shared the leftover food with a few neighbours and Mr and Little Miss Green enjoyed the remainder.

Although I’ve always been in favour of doggy bags in restaurants, I’ve never actually had the courage to ask for one. I think I can safely say this was more nerve racking than the first time I walked into our local butcher with a reusable container.

However, as you might imagine, the waiter was only too pleased for me to take away any food I could. It was less for him to clear up and he knew it was going to be eaten rather than wasted. Mind you, he did look at me like I was the first person ever to ask πŸ˜‰

What about you? Have you ever taken excess food home from a party or restaurant?


About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (15)

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  1. Are you talking to me? You are asking me if I ever took food home from a party or restaurant? You don’t know me well, do you? I cannot recall going to a party or restaurant in the past 30 years and NOT taking food home. After a memorial service for a friend, I took my bowl of grape tomatoes, poured out half to leave with the host or for anyone else, took a piece of ham and something else, and put it in my bowl. There was no need to ask or apologize. I muttered that the ham looked like it would be good with tomatoes. A few people said–certainly. The host thanked me for leaving tomatoes for him.

    At parties, I would never take wine home, either that I brought or that was leftover, just because that is rude. Food? not so rude to take it…lol.. Often, the host offers me the diet Coke because I am one of the few who drink Coke. Okay, they drink the beer and wine. Coke will go flat if they keep it. I know it and just know I can have it..

    When I have a party/gathering, I start packing things off with the guests who are most likely already making them a nice plate to take home, either for themselves or for a spouse or child. If I have bought soft drink I will not drink, they know to take it home.

    Yes, this is a group of longtime friends with many newcomers, also. But, none of us waste anything. We have compost piles, dogs, cats, and chickens. Some of the group feed the homeless, so I cannot imagine them leaving food to be wasted. I asked the host for a ham bone one night in the kitchen. As I was chatting before I left, I noticed a man leaving with it. You really have to move fast! Most of the hosts ask people to take certain food items that have been brought and left because the amount of food is too much for a couple to consume.

    In a restaurant in the US, no matter how fancy, no one bats and eye when a person asks for a go-box or a doggy bag. Usually, it is a divided styrofoam box with a lid, made for taking out food. I know some people who carry Tupperware with them in anticipation of taking home leftovers.

    Is this just not done in the UK? Actually, I have never heard of anyone being embarrassed about asking for a go box–our term that means we intend to take our food with us.

  2. Sooz says:

    Oh well done Mrs Green!
    I always take any food I can’t eat (which quite frankly doesn’t happen very often!) home with me, usually jut wrap it up in some napkins and pop it in my bag, although when I was visiting a friend in Bristol resturant staff were quite happy to give us doggy bags and it seemed like it was normal to them (possibly due to the high volume of hippies in Bristol!)

  3. Hazel says:

    I’ve done it a few times. There’s a lovely Italian near us (San Carlo in Banbury :o) ), one of those places where they genuinely love children but don’t dole out useless colouring sets as soon as you walk in the door. Ours are fascinated by the pizza chef- he does extra twirls for them when they watch him make the pizzas. They will offer to give you any leftover pizza to take home (in a cardboard box) without you having to ask.

    Curiously in other places I’ve found it less embarrassing to ask to take home veg or salads for my chickens or meat for the dogs. People seem to think that’s reasonable, whereas admitting you’re going to eat ‘second hand’ food emits pitying looks. Of course I cut the squishy bits off the plums they were going to bin (and feed them to the hens) and make crumble with the rest and put the ham in the children’s sandwiches!

    I do wish I wasn’t so bothered about what other people are thinking. I know I’m right (!) and I don’t really care that much (it’s not going to change my lifestyle), it’s just so…embarrassing! Deep breath, chin up… I guess it gives them something to talk about once we’ve left!

    Incidentally, I’ve found kitchens can often find an ice cream tub or something to decant stuff into.

  4. Pippa says:

    Our favourite pizza place in town has great staff and before we can even think about it, they usually ask whether we’d like a doggy bag – and we always do, as their pizzas are huuuge! Most of the caterers we’ve used for our parties (or funerals) have had plastic (usually the original packagins for f.ex. ham slices, mayonnaise salads) or paper containers that they’ve given us to take the food off their hands! They’ve been thankful as they wouldn’t be able to use the food for someone else’s party, they couldn’t have left the food to the party location (rented places) nor would they have wanted to just bin it. Meatballs, bread and such can be frozen, salads are usually had for light supper or lunch, cake given to neighbours or gorged on the same evening…why on earth would I leave something that I’ve paid for?!

  5. Jane says:

    Our curry house always asks us what leftovers we want to take home with us. I was a ittle nervous in one of our favourite restaurants but I shouldn’t have worried. Yasmine said she was very happy to as she hated food waste. Well there you go. The chefs have made the effort to prepare and cook the food it must be disappointing for them to have to bin it. Go for it – ask to take the remainder home with you!

  6. John Ashwell says:

    Well done you Mrs Green.

    I read a report in a paper the other week, saying that restaurants are having to deal with more waste then ever, due to their policy now, of serving what are called ‘American size portions!’

    When will the madness end?

    And, talking of madness, have a look at this latest product to hit the shelves. ‘Bottled Diet Water,’ anyone

    Still, marketing men have been conning millions into buying bottled ‘lifestyle,’ water for years, so I expect this will be a top seller too!

  7. i should consider myself somewhat of an expert in the art of food salvation…salvaging is indeed an art form–if you look at the whole life of the food stuff–would my conscience allow me to waste a dab of sour cream, a bowl of salad or a casserole supreme? no way..
    so i take bags in purse or pocket and pull them at will when the occasion arises…i also pick fruits which stand in the way of mowers, tomatoes which threaten to rot on vines, pies which burden the hostess with to many leftovers to deal with.
    my social redemption comes in the form of offering to do the dishes, clean up quickly and efficiently with humble gratitude, by the time the work is done, the donors are so relieved that they offer further rewards at other times.
    once returned to my lair, i recycle the remains of the day in spicy soups, tangy salads and wine fruits…or bread cakes, imagination plus spice equal delices.. head up and nutrition forward! saving the world one tired head f lettuce at a time…

  8. Ann Knight says:

    After a pizza meal pre theatre in London, four of us asked for boxes for left over pizzas and delivered them to a couple of the many homeless under Hyde Park. And they were so polite and thankful for it we’d do it again if the opportunity arose.

  9. sandy says:

    Well done Mrs Green
    the hotel were I cook breakfast, has a bin for left overs and it goes to the local hounds, better than landfill, but not ideal, (not that there is a lot left after breakfast as I do a good one) LOL when we go to a restaruant which is not often, we always ask for a doggy bag,(for the dog) no one has ever questioned us, they have all been very polite.

  10. Julie Day says:

    I have on one occassion taken home some prawn crackers from the local Chinese, and they provided us with a box to put them in too. Parties, I don’t go to many but maybe in the past I have. If it’s my own at home then the leftovers will get eaten over a course of days, and any salad stuff that doesn’t look bright will go in the compost caddy.

  11. Mrs Green says:

    @Practical Parsimony: Well maybe it’s a UK thing I think! I wouldn’t worry at all about asking friends, but this was in a restaurant, so it felt very awkward. Great to hear your story though!

    @Sooz: Maybe area has a lot to do with it. I guess Bristol has a lot of students too. The thing is though, it must save most companies money as they have to pay to have it taken away I should imagine.

    @Hazel: Well I’m glad it’s not just me who is embarrassed! Sounds like you do really well though and interesting about the humans / animals idea.

    @Pippa: Are you in the UK Pippa? It sounds like I really need to get over myself!

    @Jane: Interesting to hear of the places that actually ask the customer if they want to take it home. This should happen more

    @John Ashwell: Thank you Sir! American size portions infuriate me. Will go and check out your story about diet bottled water too!

    @nadine sellers: You are my heroine sweet one. I love your style πŸ˜‰ I love your slogan too!

    @Ann Knight: What a wonderful and inspiring story – thanks Ann!

    @sandy: Funny how this caused me to feel very awkward and it’s been really interesting to read all thoughts / experiences. Good to hear your food waste is at least being eaten my local dogs I guess…

    @Julie Day: Good to hear of your local Chinese participating in reducing food waste! It seems then that if we ask we can be pleasantly surprised πŸ™‚

  12. @Mrs Green: Always in restaurants, also! I thought I said that. I usually bring home enough for another meal. I really don’t care what anyone thinks about my bringing home food I paid for. I never call it a “doggy bag,” to make it seem like I am loathe to eat it. A ‘go box” is what I request. This reluctance may be a UK thing, because I don’t know many people who will not take home leftovers.

  13. Mrs Green says:

    @Practical Parsimony: Good for you; once we get away from caring what others think the world is our oyster! Like the ‘go box’ suggestion.

  14. It is also called a “to go box.” That is what I used to hear when we were all weaning ourselves from “doggy bag.” Now, it is a “to go box” or “go box.” Maybe you could start a trend in the UK. Be brave. If anyone/waiter looks askance, just say, laughingly, “I paid for it, so I will take it home and have it for lunch tomorrow.”

    My favorite place to eat in my small town is Ruby Tuesday. I order an entree and a trip to the salad bar. I make a huge salad. Usually, I cannot eat the salad and sometimes never touch it. Then, I ask for a go box and scrape the salad into it. One salad that came home with me was eaten from three times before I finished it.

    Maybe you could write a whole blog post about taking food home from restaurants and introduce the term, “to go box.” It seems you are popular with press/tv (aha, medium, that was the word I struggle to find), so it should get wide coverage in UK.

    Rolls, left over butter, sour cream, anything I was served–all goes into the box. Sometimes, I have gotten two boxes when I was a pig and ordered dessert and could not finish that. If I order more of a dressing and it is on the table, I ask for a container. The waiter will bring a little 3″ diameter cup about 2″ high for the dressing to go into. I am a woman who leaves an adequate tip or excessive tip, so they should not mind.

  15. Mrs Green says:

    @Practical Parsimony: well maybe you’ve inspired me for the theme for next years ‘zero waste week’ – We’ll get the nation asking for their ‘to go boxes’ and save the environment from destruction!

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