Establishing Habits

by Katy on September 19, 2009 · 23 comments

takeout container

I am a creature of habit, and a lot of what I do as a Non-Consumer is the compilation of seemingly inconsequential habits I have established in my everyday life.

In and of themselves not a big deal, but significant when added up.

Bringing my own re-usable bags to the grocery store, making meals from scratch that incorporate leftovers and turning off power strips when not in use are all things I used to space out, but through time I was able to incorporate into my life through habit.

Ashley English, who writes about food and canning; horticulture, chickens, bees and everything in between on her blog Small Measures, (as well as a weekly column for Design Sponge) recently penned a piece titled, “Disposing of Disposables” about bringing her own containers for takeout.

“I’m always looking for ways to put the kibosh on waste in my daily routines. One of the ways I’ve discovered towards making that happen is to curtail the use of disposable containers. I’ve long used a stainless steel coffee mug for a cuppa joe on the go. More recently, though, I’ve begun bringing my own containers to restaurants if I intend to take my food to go. I’ve yet to find a restaurant unwillingly to comply with my request. And really, why would they? If they can reduce expenditures on carry-out containers, then that’s more money in their pocket long-term.”

This is one of those actions I only seem to think about when it’s too late. I rarely order take out, but I do occasionally eat out and am a fan of the doggy bag, (woof!) yet can’t seem to remember to ever bring my own leftover containers.

I need to just force this habit onto myself.

I was buying cold cuts at the market the other day for my husband’s work lunches. The deli normally places the sliced meat on tissue paper, which then gets put into those flimsy ziploc-style bag. Ideally, I would have brought  my own container with me, but I had forgotten. (Grr  . . . ) Instead, I just asked the woman if there was any way to skip the plastic, which she was happy to do. (This store is LEED certified and shouldn’t be using plastic bags anyway.) She wrapped the ham in paper, which was acceptable.

Not a perfect solution. But as soon as I got home I crammed a couple of containers into my stash of re-usable grocery bags, which should then help in the establishment of this habit.

Are you having a hard time establishing Non-Consumer habits into your daily life? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

glenn September 19, 2009 at 12:40 am

My favorite thing about using our own containers for Chinese takeout is not having the big mess to throw out afterward. My next favorite thing about using our own containers is that I don’t have to worry about those takeout boxes leaking all over the bag in the car on the way home the way that they always do.

So that we always have them on hand, we just keep a couple containers in a basket in the car, in case the need arises. That way we don’t have to plan ahead.


tam September 19, 2009 at 5:38 am

I find that stores/restaurants in my city of Miami are not as compliant with my green requests. Just last night, I was in class (Spanish, at the local community college) and the entire class decided to go out for coffee at the break. The only place open was the McDonald’s across the street.

I had my reusable mug with me and politely asked the cashier to put a small-sized cup of coffee in my mug. The cashier went to grab a styrofoam coffee cup to pour the coffee in, then pour it into my mug. I stopped them, saying, “no, please just pour it into my mug.” The cashier, looking puzzled, said, “How will I know how much to pour in?”

I told her just to fill it halfway and we’d call it even. Still, it took the casher calling ANOTHER cashier over to finish the pouring, thus holding everyone up in line and garnering me dirty looks.



Carla September 19, 2009 at 6:14 am

Whether or not you can successfully do this everywhere truly depends upon what part of the country you live in. Like Tam in Miami I live in the South — Texas to be exact. People look at you as though you have two heads and often balk at your requests. We’re behind down here, folks! Yesterday I dropped off a prescription to be refilled at a chain pharmacy and specifically mentioned that I would like for them to reuse the plastic bottle. I was haughtily informed that they throw away ALL old bottles and only use new ones. What a waste!


NMPatricia September 19, 2009 at 7:21 am

Ahh, a subject after my heart. I still kick myself everytime we are at a restaurant and I figure out I have forgotten yet for another time that I didn’t bring containers for the leftovers. And you would think I would remember because we conciously (nearly always) “cut” our dinner in half and bring half home. We know we don’t need it all! This way we get two meals – at least for the price of two home cooked meals! Since I have by-in-large given up the chai tea away from home, that isn’t such a deal for me. But it might be interesting to test it out here in Santa Fe. The challenge intrigues me. The pill bottle thing has always bugged me. Since I call in advance for the prescription, not sure how I could get this to work. I would like to at least be able to recycle the bottles. But here in SF, they only do #1 & #2 and the sript bottles are #5. Sigh. and from a “concious” pharmacy too!


Darcy September 19, 2009 at 8:07 am

Katy — love your blog, but need to correct one thing in this post. Just because a store is LEED certified doesn’t mean that it will practice sustainable operations practices. LEED (Leadership is Energy and Environmental Design) certification means that the building was built according to specific construction principles. It doesn’t mean that certain behaviors have to happen inside the building once it’s open for business or occupancy. For example, there’s now such as thing as a LEED certified home…..but that doesn’t mean that the people that move in need to behave in a certain way. Just an FYI!


Louise September 19, 2009 at 8:33 am

I really, really want to start bringing our own containers to restaurants. What is stopping me is the size of my purse. I prefer a very small handbag, too small to fit even our smallest reusable container. We exclusively walk to dinner, so anything brought with us will be need to be in some sort of bag.

I have an old neck injury that tends to flare up if I carry anything heavy on my shoulders, and having a small purse really helps with that. I find that if my purse gets bigger, I tend to put more stuff in it.

I’ve thought about carrying a tote bag with the container, but for a long walk I would want that tote slung over my shoulder. I suppose a backpack would work, but again, I don’t want to start carrying a large bag.

I do keep a used plastic grocery bag folded up really tiny in my purse to carry food in, so at least I don’t have to take yet another plastic bag with handles to carry the take-out containers. But I’m really stymied about the container itself. Help!


Angela September 19, 2009 at 1:58 pm

Since all of this is all about forming habits (and having our requests responded to politely!), the idea of keeping containers with the cloth grocery bags or in the car is a great one. Once I made sure I had the cloth grocery bags in the car, it was a non-issue.

My problem has been like Louise- I don’t tend to carry a big purse, but I think it would work if I carried an extra tote in the car with the containers- hey, maybe that’s an idea to market! A cute all-in-one bag/ containers to bring in to restaurants (a “handsome” one for the men, of course!)


Judith in Ky September 19, 2009 at 7:45 pm

I am always the last one to write! But I do read you all ever day and try to follow your advise! I have spent a week trying to learn to knit socks. (It will probably take at least another week. I crochet, not knit, normanly) It has already cost me $20.00 and I think I could have bought at least 2 fancy pair for that price. But I hope in the future to be able to compensate for that. I love fancy socks and so do several of my friends and relatives. Re: GIFTS


Karen September 19, 2009 at 8:06 pm

It sure is an ongoing process to first create the new habit of bringing your own bags, then instruct cashiers to notice the bags and use them. There is progress on the horizon as I’ve gotten a bit more assertive without (I hope) becoming a pain in the ass to the cashiers. Here in the Bay Area, the “bring your own bag” thing has caught on so much that no one blinks anymore if you’re at the grocery store.

But this less the case in drugstores and other stores, so again, I’ve had to learn to be more assertive and insist that, yeah, the bag I have with me is actually what I want the toilet paper and mouthwash to go in. It works best if I start just stashing stuff in the bag, then they get the picture.

I too like to carry a smaller purse, so I have a string back that squashes down pretty flat that I keep in my purse at all times. That string bag expands so much, it’s amazing what I can get in it. Frequently, cashiers don’t believe that, yes, let’s put ALL of this stuff in this bag. Re take out containers, I’m still trying to train myself. I love everyone’s ideas here, and especially the no brainer of avoiding leaky disposable containers. I do wonder though, in the case of Chinese food, how do they know how much to put in your container?


Louise September 19, 2009 at 8:38 pm

Okay, this all prompted me to bring up the topic with my husband at dinner tonight as we contemplated the non-recyclable, non-reheatable, non-airtight styrofoam take out box they gave us. He is completely on board with bringing along our own containers to restaurants. He said he’d be happy to carry them in a small backpack, but that I’d have to remember to hand the backpack to him before we walk out the door.

We’ve already designated the backpack, and where it will hang on a hook near the front door. I’m hoping that tonight’s Mexican restaurant leftovers are the last ones we ever take home in a styrofoam clamshell!

Thanks for bringing up this topic today. It really pushed me to *DO* something instead of just thinking about it…


Angela September 20, 2009 at 11:26 am

Yay Louise, your husband, and Katy for bringing up the issue.

The “Woo Hoo for You” award?


Heidi September 20, 2009 at 12:50 pm

A new habit that I’m having a hard time really nailing down is re-using the small clear plastic bags in the produce section of the store, so I don’t have to tear several new ones off the roll every time. I put my old ones with the green bags in the car, which I do not forget anymore, so why I can’t remember these too, I can’t figure.

I’m thinking about getting a few of those cute drawstring fabric produce bags from etsy.


Karen September 20, 2009 at 8:27 pm

I love the breadth of your blog. It’s probably why I keep reading it and have only dabbled in the specific blogs that go in depth. You give me something new to think about nearly every day. And I love reading all the comments too. I sort of feel like we are all friends, even tho we are thousands of miles apart.

Maybe I should change my name to Karen P, since we have another regular poster who is Karen also.


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