How to Reduce Your Waste While Eating Fast Food

Spread the Sustainable Gospel!

By eating out, I’m referring to fast food. During my Zero Waste Challenge, I stress that it’s important to severely reduce eating fast food as it’s not great for our health, our wallets, or the environment. Did you know that most litter (49%) that ends up in our oceans is fast food waste? And it’s no wonder considering just how much disposable nonsense comes with our burgers and fries.

When my husband and I decided to challenge ourselves to live zero waste, it was all because of this type of waste. We decided to pick up trash around our neighborhood as apart of our “doing something” for Earth day and found ourselves picking up buckets and buckets of waste in only a short distance. Fast food cups, straws, plastic lids, paper bags, condiment packages, and napkins littered our small block. It was disgusting. But sadly, we are a convenience-based society so yea, that’s why this happens.

Please, don’t take this as me passing judgment on those who eat out, because I am not. We eat out from time to time. With busy lives and demanding careers, sometimes eating out is a life saver. I get it. So how does one avoid trash while eating fast food? I’m not going to give you all of these ways to prepare food at home in advance to be more ready to avoid fast food, instead, I’m going to give you some tips to reduce trash when you do eat out. I’ll save that for another post.

How to Reduce Your Waste While Eating Fast Food

Eat In

You typically get way less waste when you get your food to stay rather than in the drive-thru. You also have more control over what you receive and what you can refuse when you’re standing in front of the cashier.

Use Reusables

Probably the most impactful way to avoid trash while eating out is to utilize reusable alternatives instead of the vast array of disposable junk that comes with your meal. Use your own utensils, cloth napkins, and reusable cups when going out. I use my stainless steel water bottle at the soda fountain or just drink water I bring from home.

Refuse Lids and Straws

If you don’t have your reusables on hand, these items are easy to refuse because they aren’t really that necessary.

Ask for a Real Glass

It doesn’t hurt to ask. Many restaurants I’ve visited normally give drinks out in plastic cups but actually have real glassware behind the counter upon request.

Get Your Food To-Go in Reusable Containers

This sounds complicated but, trust me, it is a lot easier than you think. Instead of getting your food to go in the disposable packaging, get it put in your own containers. Call ahead to verify it’s ok then bring your containers to the counter upon pick up. An even easier way to get your food in your own containers is to order your food to stay, then transfer it all to your containers yourself.

Order Minimally Packaged Items

That Nachos BellGrande from Taco Bell might not be the most minimally packaged item to order if you know what I mean. Look for items that have the least amount of packaging like a taco wrapped in paper or a sub.

Choose Your Restaurant Carefully

Choose restaurants that have minimally packaged items like sandwich shops. When you go to order, request that your food is minimally wrapped or not wrapped at all. Pizzas are also a good option as they come in recyclable and compostable cardboard boxes.

Be Responsible With Your Waste

The waste that you do produce and acquire should be responsibly dealt with. Recycle or compost the paper and recycle any plastic if you can. Take complete ownership of the waste you create.


How do you reduce your waste while eating out?


9 thoughts on “How to Reduce Your Waste While Eating Fast Food

  1. What a great post! I’ve avoided eating out since going zero waste, but these are some really great tips – maybe I’ll give it a go sometime soon!

    I think one of the few ‘fast food’ places (if you’d call them that) that I find really accommodating are coffee shops. Independent ones are great about it, but even chain ones tend to be fine with you bringing a reusable cup. Suppose it saves them money on paper/plastic ones, haha!

    • The hardest part is always using your reusables or asking for your food in your own containers one time – then you quickly see that most places have no issue to accommodate you. You are probably right! It does same them money on disposables. 😀

  2. That’s a scary statistic that almost half of ocean pollution is fast food waste! My husband and I have had exactly the same experience when it comes to doing street cleanups. We live right near a McDonald’s, and the amount of straws, cups, plastic lids and fries containers we find on a weekly basis just on this one block is astounding.

    These are great tips for reducing waste while eating fast food. I know most zero-wasters make a lot of their food themselves, but the reality is that it isn’t always possible to keep that up when you’re out and about. We recently came back from a camping trip and were passing through a lot of small towns where everything was closed due to the Christmas break, except for the fast food chains. Ironically, we ended up going to McDonald’s for lunch because we were really hungry and thought we had better eat before we attempted the remaining 5 hour trip home. Once inside, we analysed the situation and decided to order from the McCafe area, since I could see they had real plates behind the counter. We each ordered a toasted sandwich and requested a real plate, and my husband also got a coffee in our travel mug. We refused the plastic spoon with the coffee, but they served it all to us on a tray with a paper lining on it. Unfortunately I didn’t see that one ahead of time, which definitely could have been avoided, but I took the paper lining home with us to recycle. All in all I was really happy with how it turned out – no plastic used and very minimal waste!

    • Exactly 🙂 We are all going to eat fast food from time to time as that’s just life. Making better decisions isn’t necessarily impossible and you proved that it can be done. Fantastic Job! <3

  3. These are great tips! After seeing your IG post this morning I said I usually go with out fast food. I had to stop at the grocery store for my mom this morning to get a jar of chili pepper. I thought about how nice it would be to get something from the deli, but I decided to continue my walk home and make a smoothie with my reusable straw instead 😊

  4. Do you know about restaurants that pre set the tables with desposable items like paper napkins? I don’t use them but I wonder if they just get tossed anyway…

  5. Love this non-judgmental post! I don’t eat out often (to save money) but am glad to see ways to eat out while cutting waste.

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