The Real Cost of Your Take-Away Meal is Not Mentioned on the Bill

Here’s how each part of your take away meal is affecting the ecosystem and our health.

Ayushi Thapliyal

Your take-out meal may satiate your hunger now, but its contents will continue to harm the environment for several centuries. Here’s a post mortem report of your take away meal.

What’s Wrong with Plastic Cutlery?

Plastic forks and spoons can retain quality and strength, which means that when they are thrown out – and this perfectly fine cutlery is introduced into the waste stream and will remain in local landfills or the ocean for decades. If they are incinerated, it adds to air pollution.

Eating hot meals with plastic crockery is not advisable, because when plastic is exposed to high temperature, toxins such as Biphenyl A, dioxin, and Phthalates—the chemicals used to make plastic soft, are released. So along with your packed meals you’re consuming harmful chemicals that trigger hormonal disorders and may even cause cancers. With over eight million tonnes of plastic going into the oceans every year, it is estimated that there will be more plastic than fish by 2050, and that 99 per cent of seabirds would have consumed some of it.

Instead, try this: Refuse. It starts with that. Carry your own cutlery or wash and reuse plastic utensils are much as you can, or simply eat with your fingers. Many eco-friendly brands sell decomposable cutlery, but if it still has plastic in it, the “sustainable” tag on it is an eyewash.

Also read: How is Mumbai coping with the plastic ban

Come on, It’s Just One Straw

Weather it is a bottle of pop, a milk shake, or a glass of juice bought from your local juice corner shop, they all come with plastic straws. Do you really need that straw? Even if we told you that it is going to outlive you by 200 years? Most straws cannot be easily recycled, which is how they end up in landfills, pollute oceans, or get stuck in marine creatures. You’d have viewed images of turtles with straws stuck in their nostrils, but did you know that over 1 million seabirds die from ingested plastic! According to Ocean Conservatory’s Trash Information and Data for Education and Solutions, straws are the sixth more found ocean trash during clean-ups. When plastics degrade, the bulk of the plastic may seem to disappear. But, in fact, the plastic is only breaking into smaller pieces or microplastics that will continue to exist. Unfortunately, it will never biodegrade fully.

Instead, try this: Drink up, without the straw. Or purchase metal or bamboo straws. They can be cleaned and reused.

Also read: Confessions of a plastic straw addict

To-go paper cups never go away

Don’t let the words “paper cup” fool you. Most paper cups are coated with a petroleum-based plastic resin. This makes them durable and prevents liquids from leaking. Both production and shipment of paper cups contributes greatly to air pollution. These cups also emit methane when they decompose. Methane is a greenhouse gas its heat-trapping capacity is 21 times that of carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, paper cups cannot be recycled and a majority of them end up in landfills.

Instead, try this: To cut back on paper cup use, carry your own reusable to-go mug.

The tiny stirrer has a dangerous agenda

Who doesn’t love to-go coffee or tea right? With the hot cuppa comes the tiny, unsuspecting stirrer, which are at times shaped like a miniature spoon. Plastics are not biodegradable. But they do degrade, which means that they break into smaller pieces, called microplastics, or any plastic less than 5mm in length. These are even more harmful and enter the food chain and into our bodies.

Instead, try this: Use wooden stirrers or ask for a metal spoon. Many coffee shops have even swapped the plastic with wooden ones.

Also read: 10 Indian brands that are helping reduce our carbon footprint

Plastic bags and water bottles

If an animal ingests too much plastic it can starve to death. Once plastic is accidentally consumed, it cannot be digested, and prevents the animal from being able to eat nutritious food. In the oceans it fills up the stomachs of marine animals, causing their death. To sea turtles, plastic bags can be confused with jellyfish in the water. In fact, it has been reported that plastic can be found in more than half of the world’s turtles. Litter found in sea is said to harm more than 600 species!

Also read: I gave up plastic by making five simple changes in my daily life and here's what happened

Instead, try this: Carry around a bottle of water. Look for water coolers or water fountains. Instead of carrying a bottle away, ask the servers in a restaurant to serve you water in a glass.

Get ingenious, get creative, it’s a matter of your health and the health of the planet.


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