J500 Media and the Environment

One order of waste with a side of pancakes, please by Chardonnay

“First Watch on College, this is Sonya, what can I get for you today?”

“Alright, I have a To-Go order of a triple stack of blueberry pancakes, a three cheese omelette and an extra side of potatoes. Would we get you anything else?”

She didn’t even have to ask.

With that order will come disposable styrofoam boxes, disposable plastic silverware, a disposable paper menu, disposable single serving jellies, ketchups and syrups, and plenty of extra paper napkins. It’s all complementary. Complements of your ecosystem.

I know what you’re thinking: this is almost overwhelming.

But don’t you worry– it all comes in a convenient, giant plastic sack. Maybe even two if it’s necessary (and sometimes when it’s not!). We even give you a disposable 3 oz paper cup for your coffee while you wait.

To-Go practices is hardly the first thing that comes to mind when I think of wasteful practices at First Watch. And whether this strikes you as good news or bad news, I can tell you that the company is not evil and not unusual.

It is delicious. Our orange juice is unbeatable. We go through at least five jugs each Sunday. When we finish one off, we toss it in the trash. It joins the glass apple juice jugs, plastic milk cartons and countless other packaging materials that are tossed each and every day.

It will not join the cardboard boxes in which they are delivered.
No, of course. We recycle cardboard.


I would love to see Chris Jordan do a piece on how much waste reduction could result from a nifty, space-saving tower of recycle bins being placed in each First Watch throughout the country. In fact, every restaurant I’ve worked for could use one. Could it become as standard a business practice as the employee hand-washing sign? That guy’s everywhere.

As far as To-Go’s, I would look to “Reduce” before “Recycle” in my triple-R toolbox. I mentioned in a previous post Jason’s Deli’s new practice to include extra resources only upon request. This easily be mimicked by restaurants all over the world and the impact would be colossal.

That covers the supply-side, but until that campaign goes through, here’s what we can do from the demand-side. When ordering To-Go’s, ask the server to skip the plasticware, napkins, condiments and menus.

I don’t know if this discredits me, but in the name of full disclosure, I can’t resist the complementary coffee. I get the feeling that bringing your own mug from home would earn a judging eye or two.

-Sonya English


9 Comments so far
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Here is how I like to embarrass myself.
I wrap up a metal fork or spoon in a cloth napkin and I carry it along with a reusable water bottle and reusable coffee mug. I bring my own plates to the office to warm up food and I try to bring my own to go containers when I go to restaurants. Yes, I get the looks – along with irritation from flight attendants who don’t seem to want to give me that much water. Sometimes, I even get self-righteousness when people say they won’t use my containers. But at the end of the day, the extra pounds I saddle myself with make me feel better. I don’t always get it right. Carrying around all this stuff balances out those moments when I get the Prima Tazza latte in a styrofoam cup, use the plastic soup spoon when i forget mine, or microwave my umpteenth Amy’s organic meal in Dole.
And I think that’s the best place to be – a little quirky and a little balanced.

Comment by j500


Comment by Sonya

Think of how much waste could be reduced if take-out places offered reusable take-out containers?

When I was a kid on Long Island, we used to get milk delivered from a local dairy farm. We had a milk box on our front porch. Every few days we’d have fresh milk delivered in glass bottles and the milkman would pick up our empties. No milk cartons were every placed in the trash, just the caps.

Couldn’t this be done with pizza? Every time you order a pizza, the pizza deliverer would bring you a pizza in a reusable container and pick-up the one from your last order.

Perhaps all fast food restaurants could agree on a standard reusable package design for burgers, fries, drinks and just share (not unlike the food trays at a mall food court).

Maybe customers would have to leave a deposit for the reusable containers. Yes, this idea has some kinks, but it could be done.

I commend Simran for bringing her own, but the real innovation and most effective change will occur when the option of disposable take-out stuff is no longer an option. Until that change occurs, bring your own.

However, the burden should be on the restaurants to clean up their act, not the consumer. The current model is clearly not working from an environmental perspective.

– David

Comment by dshawla


“The burden should be on…” is a phrase we use with some regularity when talking about the environment. It’s clear to me why– it’s this looming problem and the enormity intimidates individuals so it seems like change will come from a collective– whether that collective is “the public”/”the consumer” or “the corporations” is the subject of this debate. However, I propose that the burden is on human beings. Some of those human beings work for corporations and restaurants, other human beings will have given up their favorite grapefruit soda in the name of conservation. However, we all have a responsibility to make change.


Comment by Sonya


My point about whose “burden” this is relates more to the idea of “choice” in America. Paper or plastic bags at the grocery store is not really a choice, is it? So, those who care to bring our own bags. But what happens if we forget? And many consumers will never opt out of the “paper or plastic” decision.

Thankfully, the city of San Francisco has outlawed the use of plastic bags, which means the “choice” of plastic is one consumers no longer have to make. The law will remove millions/billions of plastic bags in one fell swoop. Santa Monica is on its way to following SF’s lead and hopefully soon, they will be outlawed nationwide. China has already outlawed them (not that they don’t have other issues).

I agree completely that humans have to decide to change, but those humans who are in a position to change entire systems within corporations or the government can create greater change with a change in policy than one consumer can by brining their own. (Yes, consumers can help them see the light with our voting dollars)

In the mean time, individuals should absolutely do what they can. But, until entire policies are changed regarding disposable take-out containers, I’ll still find myself picking up other people’s fast food trash when I walk my dog.

– David

Comment by dshawla

I am just amazed. Who is going to take the chance on reusable take out containers? In a world where there are security seals on everything? The real answer is making your own food when you don’t want to be at a restaurant. As long as you can’t bring your own platters, etc. what else works? People driving through, at work far from home certainly can’t bring their own.
Perhaps there needs to be a more flexible take? Like if you plan to picnic you can bring a plastic container from home for the fried chicken, the cole slaw, the potato salad, and make a deposit on drinks bottles.
For everyone else who must have the disposables, they can pay a deposit and recoup that when they properly recycle the containers? Are we disciplined enough to do it?

Comment by judithgr


You touch on something that has become a core presumption within the American consumer’s psyche – single use containers = clean; reusable containers = icky.

However, it wasn’t too long ago when soda (pop) came in single use reusable bottles. Think about that. Someone would put their lips on a bottle of Coke to drink it and when they were finished place it in a crate next to the Coke machine. Those empties would be taken to the bottling planet, where they were sterilized and refilled with Coke. This was the norm for decades. No one was afraid of that.

We have come to believe that single use containers (bottles, bags, tissues, food containers) are somehow cleaner than reusables.

I tend to agree with that, but deep down I know that I don’t really know where my soft drink cup has been and I do know where it’s going – a landfill (assuming it doesn’t fall off the garbage truck onto the street, down the storm drain and into the Pacific).

There is no doubt that my suggestion of reusable fast food containers faces a huge hurdle in terms of people’s perceptions of what is clean. But how clean is a soft drink cup from a stack that was dropped on the floor before being loaded into the cup dispenser and will eventually take up space in a landfill?

– David

Comment by dshawla

Your post made me very curious about statistics. You know all those numbers about “we use this many so-and-so’s a day, and waste this much of it, and it’s bad.” But, how much of it is on an individual scale, and how much of it is big corporations, fast food chains, or even First Watch restaurants. How can we get the word out to every business that to-go boxes pose an even greater threat than just wasting food? It just won’t happen. Again, good for Simran for going above and beyond, but I’m not going to trust every human to be able to or even think to do what “they should.” What’s the other option? What is the next best thing, or what’s the baby step we can take to relay this message?

Comment by Danae DeShazer

You make a good point about recyclable glass containers, but glass is different and can be sterilized and sealed. When they were common, take out was a small thing and now it’s huge. Will someone, delivery boy or client, really carry food for 10 in glass containers?
Here nowadays everything is plastic. I hate it. I stick the weight label onto the celery and the cashier puts it into a bag anyway. Why? The celery is 22″ long and the bag is 14″. Where am I gaining anything?

Comment by judithgr

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