Creative Reuse Food & Drink Reuse Lifestyle Practices

The Condiment Conundrum: What to do about all those packets of ketchup, hot sauce, and more

I’ve finally looked into something that’s been on my mind for a long time– the accumulation and waste of all the “extras” that come with takeout food, that takes place constantly across the country. If you’re a reuser like me, you save a lot of it, only to see it build up into a messy, “expired” and overloaded waste of space in a pantry or drawer, and you take mental note of how much of it gets thrown away before even making it to your stash– perfectly good, unopened packages of sauces and salt ‘n pepper, as well as unused plasticware, napkins and straws. And you think about how much more is being trashed by people who aren’t reusers.

As I started searching online for what others have done/said about the issue, I thought I’d probably find some clever digital cookbook with nothing but recipes that use fast food sauces (with ingredients measured in “packets” instead of tablespoons), or some kind of art made from gluing all the packets together… I did find a few blog posts of ways to use them (“save them for lunches” was one idea– well, DUH!) and I found that some corporations are pledging to use compostable condiment packaging by the year blah-blah-blah-blah or they’re participating in pilot programs that recycle the empties… and there is some amazing art out there using leftover/trashed plastic drinking straws and plastic utensils (check out the Hey Lola Art Co. and Calder Kamin for starters), but….according to an article from the Columbia Climate School, Greenpeace reported a couple years ago that 855 billion single-use condiment packets are trashed each year… I stopped pretty quickly into my research then because it hit me that making a really big dent in this problem can best be done first with our own habits.

Yep, if you save this kind of stuff, organize it so that you can see it on a regular basis and know what you have on hand, and then put on the brakes. The next time you get takeout or drive-thru food, and you’re taking it home, tell them when ordering that you don’t want any utensils, napkins or condiments, if you’re stocked up on all that. (If you’re not taking it home, keep a mini stash of takeout supplies in the “glove compartment” of your car or in an office desk drawer or backpack to be “stocked up”). It seems like a no-brainer but do any of you “just say no” to all that when ordering? I’m always going through the line thinking of a million other things (with probably one of them being, I’M HUNGRY) and then get home with a bag loaded with extra junk that I don’t need… it just seems like saying no to all the extras is a simple change that will make a big difference if enough people do it.

I’m glad that some food establishments are already being proactive about this issue and offering their customers choices. Some food ordering apps are great about asking if they should include utensils or not; all ordering apps should not only ask about utensils but also straws and other items as well. Because it serves as a great reminder for busy people who aren’t always thinking about being earth-friendly, and it’s easy to just check off a few boxes to say “no” when ordering!

So simply getting in the habit of thinking about the “extras” when you order is good first step. Keeping organized and knowing what you have on hand is the second. Of course, if you’re really on the ball, you buy all your favorite sauces in bottles and keep them in the pantry and/or fridge, so you never need any packets of anything… but, not all are available for purchase, so… what to do with the packets? In my recent Internet deep-dive I found several packet organizing ideas, like using a tea bag caddy; my favorite was using a silverware organizer (the tray-style-kind that are made to fit inside a drawer). It just so happens that I had a great one on hand that had been given to me in a recent Untrash donation that was possibly to be used someday to organize materials in the space; I pulled it temporarily to use for this reuse/reduce education moment. See above photo for the result. I keep it on a visible shelf just inside the pantry door, near where the unorganized stash used to be stored. What do you think? I wish I had a “before” photo but I was too embarrassed to take it– just imagine a small green plastic basket overflowing with sauce packets and other stuff, with many of the packets “bloated” from age! It was definitely fun to “purge” and create something new.

Yes, there’s always the “why not just cook something fresh and avoid the takeout line all together?” approach, but that’s just not something I can ALWAYS do.

So, I guess since I have yet to write down any New Year’s Resolutions, I’ll go on record to say at least one of mine is going to be to “just say no” to all the extras more often when ordering takeout.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!! (Do you save takeout “accessories” and if so, how do you organize it?)