Guide to Sustainable Living and a Zero Waste Lifestyle: Part 2 – Eco Friendly Restaurant Etiquettes

Sustainable Living- Zero Waste
Sustainable Living

विश्वस्वं मातरमोषधीनां ध्रुवां भूमिं पृथिवीं धर्मणा धृताम् । शिवां स्योनामनु चरेम विश्वहा ॥

Vishvasvam Maataram-Ossadhiinaam Dhruvaam Bhuumim Prthiviim Dharmannaa Dhrtaam | Shivaam Syonaam-Anu Carema Vishvahaa ||

Meaning: 17.1: Salutations to Mother Earth, The Herbs (Plants) which are like Mothers of the World who sustain us, grows on the Immovable Earth (Bhumi); the Earth which is held by Duty.
17.2: In which Auspiciousness gently pervades throughout the World.

This shloka (verse) is the 17th one in an ancient Indian scripture of wisdom and knowledge called Taittirya Samhita from the Yajurveda. The Vedas were scriptures written by Hindu sages, that contained an entire universe of information on Mathematics, Science, Astronomy, Health or Life Sciences. In 1500 BCE, they spoke of an intriguing aspect to the Earth’s natural resources and preservation of the Environment, something we have termed as “climate change” today. Beautiful shlokas written in Sanskrit language emphasise on the beauty and importance of nature, the idea of considering the Earth to be your mother, and bowing down to her. The aforementioned verse captures the essence with which Hindu sages worshipped the planet they resided on, how aptly they understood the importance of trees and most importantly, a physically invisible force of Duty which is required to hold the Earth together.

For those of you dear readers who do not know, I had started an Eco Project last week, which involves sustainable living, promoting a lifestyle which generates negligible waste, and recycling harmful items that would suffocate the Earth’s soil. I decided to undertake the project for 18 weeks and chronicle my entire journey through weekly articles here. At the end of it all, you would have access to my ultimate guide to sustainable living, broken down in the simplest parts, keeping in mind the busy lives we all lead.

You will find the beginning of my Eco Project which involves a personal account of my first week and the changes I made with some inspiration from the Atharva Veda in Part 1 of Guide to Sustainable Living and a Zero Waste Lifestyle.

Today, the third week of my Eco Project has come to an end. As promised, I’m back with the 2nd part of my chronicle which will include a helpful guide on eco-friendly Restaurant Ethics and an account of the changes I made at home this week.

Eco Friendly Bar and Restaurant Ethics

To us Millennials, a lovely cafe or a nightclub is as sacred as scrolling through our Instagram feed every night. Our bizarre work schedules and poorly maintained work-life balance has us craving for a glamorous night of bling on a Friday or colourful cafes for a Sunday brunch. We’re so caught up in our laptops and phones throughout the week that come ye weekend, we long for conversations and look forward to catching up with friends and family. This obviously lets the environment and eco-friendly practices take a backseat – but trust me, the food you order at restaurants is as good as your commitment to the environment.

Think about it, you use a non-biodegradable tissue to wipe pasta sauce off your face or a plastic straw for your m(c)ocktails. You don’t know how ecologically efficient the restaurant’s waste management system is. This discarded waste finds it’s way into a landfill or worse, an unmanaged garbage can on the road. Unmanaged waste bins are cancerous to the society both culturally and hygienically. Now imagine billions of people around the world chilling on a weekend without realising where their waste is going to land up later – into the soil, the same soil that is used for growing vegetables and producing food for us. What’s worse is, the waste lands up in a nearby water body, pollutes the marine habitat, enters the bodies of fish living in it which in turn is occasionally captured to feed your belly at a restaurant famous for seafood. This is why, the food you order at restaurants is as good as your commitment to the environment.

I’ve compiled a list of simple ecologically efficient practices that we can all adopt when we visit a cafe or a bar next time.

Beverages

Non Alcoholic

Juice/Mocktails

The first thing to keep in mind when you’re ordering a beverage is to note if it comes in a packaged bottle or freshly served in a glass. For example, freshly squeezed fruit juices served in reusable glasses are healthier and more eco friendly than the ones served to you in a plastic container or tetra packs. This is because it eliminates the need for waste disposal – you wouldn’t have to worry about the restaurant unethically discarding your bottle or you carrying the empty bottle home to reuse it. The first time I ordered a mocktail as a kid, years ago, I loved the fancy umbrella and straw that came with it. I honestly felt like I was holidaying in Hawaii. It was only recently that I realised the umbrellas are usually a brutal use of polypropylene plastic. Although it is easily one of the most popular kind of plastic used for packaging across the globe, only 1% of it is recycled and 99% of it lands up in landfills in the soil. These take 20-30 years to decompose and eventually pollute the ground. Polypropylene plastic also contains toxic additives such as lead and cadmium. The next time you visit a restaurant, if your mocktail is served with a plastic umbrella or a plastic straw, just ask the waiter to give it to you without them. If you’re uncomfortable doing that, keep the umbrella in your bag and take it home for a tiny piece of decor for your kitchen shelf. Don’t throw it away and don’t depend on the restaurant to dispose it in an eco friendly way. Say hello to reusable metal straws and you’ll never have to throw away a plastic one ever again. (more on straws below)

Coffee

If your visit to a cafe is pre-planned, try carrying your own sweeteners from home in a tiny reusable box. Artificial sweeteners and white sugar at cafes can contribute to poor health, as well as harmful waste disposal even if they are packaged in what seems to be paper. Unless you really know that the paper packaging is compostable or recyclable and is made from recycled paper, chances are it’s not. In an attempt to save time and money, corporates may not save the planet from non-biodegradable packaging. Carry your own white/brown sugar or natural sweeteners like jaggery from home in a tiny box. If you can’t, use the sweeteners at restaurants and keep the paper it was packaged in, in your bag for you to recycle/dispose off ethically at home. The ideal case is when your coffee is served in reusable ceramic cups, as it usually is. For people rushing to work and picking up a glass of coffee on the way, have you noticed the disposable cups are not biodegradable at all? They contribute to choking the Earth’s soil a lot more than plastic straws do. The solution is really simple – carry your own metal flask to the place where you pick up your coffee everyday and ask them to pour it in. It might seem cumbersome initially, especially if you walk/bike to work – but you’ll get used to it and you really don’t have to do it everyday, even if you carry your own flask for 3 of the 5 working days of the week, it makes a huge impact once the year comes to an end.

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Jaggery (Natural Sweetener) in a small box which I have started carrying.

Alcoholic

It’s Saturday and all you want to do is get drunk with your best friends amid power packed dance moves to finish off the night with, right? Perhaps we can try doing that in a way that reduces our carbon footprint and we’ll actually have a healthy Earth to ourselves for a longer time to party, in the years to come.

Beer

Before I recently became a teetotaller, I enjoyed the occasional beer and especially few of the bottled brands. I once tried freshly brewed beer from a tap at a brewery in the city of Bangalore in India, which has a fabulous nightlife. It was only until now that I realised it is an eco-friendly alternative to bottled beer, as there is no need to dispose off any bottles. Try different kinds of brewed beer the next time you hit a club! You’ll also find an account of the different kinds of brewed beer in my article from 2019 on the bibliography of beer. Of course, if you’re comfortable, you could always order bottled beer and carry the empty ones home instead of leaving it at the restaurant, to reuse it as something else such as vases. I absolutely love restro-bars that reuse old liquor bottles as decor, cutlery holders and even lamps. It’s classy and reduces so much non-biodegradable waste!

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Tap Beer at Melbourne, Australia when I visited the country in 2016

I have collected a few beer bottles over the last few years even before I started my Eco Project. I’ll be reusing them as planters at home.

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Collection of empty beer bottles for use at home

Others

If you’re ordering cocktails and other forms of hard liquor, there is no waste involved of course, unless your Martini comes with a plastic umbrella or a plastic straw that I mentioned earlier while talking about mocktails. The toothpick that comes with your olives in your drink is usually compostable/biodegradable, so you don’t have to worry about that.

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Michelada – A Spanish cocktail without fancy plastic decor and still delicious

Straws

The highest usage of single use plastics, was found to be in the production of straws. More than 500 Million straws are used in the United States of America every single day, which makes the annual utility rise up to an alarming 180 Billion Straws. An astonishing number of 100,000 marine animals are killed every year due to choking on plastic straws alone. Sadly, the solution is as simple as purchasing a permanent and reusable metal straw or bamboo straw – and yet, the world still sells harmful plastic ones. Vietnam found a beautiful solution and produced edible plant straws that are excellent for your oral health too, you can read about it in another article of mine. The next time you go out to eat, carry your metal/bamboo straw with you, it takes only one second of your conscious effort to save thousands of exquisite marine creatures from choking. If you forget to carry your straw on some days, just order a beverage that comes in a glass, one that doesn’t require disposal and one that doesn’t require a straw for consumption.

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My Lemonade in a Metal straw

Tissues

Tissues are one of the worst uses of paper. There are very few brands that manufacture them from recycling paper waste in an attempt to save time and money. When you look at a tissue from afar, it’s a little tough to identify if it has been made from recycled paper, if it is compostable or if it is biodegradable. Also, the disposal of these tissues is not in your control when you use them at a restaurant. When I was a child, my late maternal grandmother gave me hand-stitched handkerchiefs, seven of them in different colours with the days of the week stitched onto it – one for every day of the week. My paternal grandmother too kept restocking my collection whenever I caught the flu and my handkerchiefs were in the laundry. I used them throughout my school days but once I went to college, I replaced them with tissues as I thought they were more convenient. They are actually – just picking up a tissue and tossing it in the bin when you’re done sneezing is quite handy. However, as I write this article surrounded by canopies of trees in different shades of green around me, I can only wistfully think of the forests that were cut down to make those tissues for me – all because I couldn’t carry a handkerchief to class in college. Thinking of the majestic creatures living in forests that lost their homes due to (wo)mankind’s need for saving time, I switched to a handkerchief and am back to basics again. I wish naniji was still around, she would’ve made the prettiest handkerchiefs for me with beautiful Indian patterns embroidered on them. Then again, that’s how life teaches us the value of things only after we have lost them. I really hope us millennials can slow down climate change before it’s too late, and before we have to pay an exorbitant amount of money for amenities like pure oxygen and green trees.

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My thin cotton handkerchief which easily fits into my purse and pockets – I use it to wipe my hands and my nose when I have a stuffy nose, wash it, and then use it again.

Cutlery

The moment you see plastic or non-biodegradable cutlery, steer clear from it. Plastic spoons and forks that usually come with food delivered at your doorstep are one of the biggest contributors to single-use and micro plastics that cannot be recycled and land up in landfills. Choose restaurants that serve you food with stainless steel/reusable cutlery or at least biodegradable bamboo ones. Usually fast food restaurants don’t have stainless steel/reusable cutlery, and if it’s really imperative that you to eat there, you can always take the spoons home with you after using them – so that you can dispose it off in an ecologically efficient way. If you’re picking up some dinner from your favourite takeaway on the way home, decline the plastic forks and spoons that come along with it. You can always use the regular cutlery you have at home to eat. If you’re extremely cautious, you can always carry a bamboo fork with you. In India, even the most basic restaurants have stainless steel cutlery thankfully and it comes as a relief, considering the fact that not many cities have efficient waste disposal systems in place.

Food

The meat industry is one of the highest contributors to carbon emissions in the world, and also responsible for deforestation. The area of forest cover lost due to establishment of meat factories is immense. The utility of land to grow crops for animals is inefficient as it takes almost 20 times lesser land to produce food for a vegan or vegetarian diet. More than 90 percent of the Amazon rainforest land cleared since 1970 has been used used for grazing livestock at meat factory farms. Waste from meat factory farms and livestock is one of the leading causes of pollution in water bodies as well as the air. People who live nearby are forced to inhale the toxins and pathogens. I understand the dependency of most people across the globe on Meat for both protein and their taste buds but it’s much healthier to switch to a vegetarian, if not vegan diet as reported by research papers from multiple institutions. So, the next time you go out to eat, you could take baby steps and try something on the vegetarian menu for once, or at least occasionally. I personally used to eat chicken at restaurants a couple of times a week before I started my Eco Project, even though I live with my 100% vegetarian family. The city where I stay, Hyderabad, is extremely famous for it’s delicious Chicken and Mutton rice-based dish called Biryani. Eating a vegetarian Biryani is mocked here, and it’s not considered to be authentic either. But this week when I went out for a dinner date, I ordered Vegetarian Biryani for probably the first time and I quite enjoyed it!

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Vegetarian Biryani with a meat-eating companion – forced him to try it with me and he enjoyed it too!

Explore vegan and organic cafes on one particular weekend and observe the way organic restaurants manage their waste and serve fresh food cooked with organic vegetables that have been grown right behind their kitchen.

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Loose Tea in different flavours organically packaged and stored at Hyatt Hyderabad, India. Not an organic cafe, but a sample.

Breath

If you’re going out on a date, you obviously do not want bad breath. I used to carry chewing gum with me everywhere, regardless of a restaurant or not. The chewing gum was packaged in either plastic or aluminium or tin – all of them harmful, too small to recycle and not reusable. The eco friendly solution is, switching to organic cloves that you can carry in a tiny box of a size similar to that of gum. This requires no disposal – you put a piece or two of clove in your mouth, suck on it till it’s smaller and then swallow. It’s extremely healthy for your teeth, your throat and the freshness of breath stays for a longer time than it does with gum.

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Cloves in a small container which used to store Shea Cream earlier. Reused it.

Smoking

Smoking causes toxic emissions in the air and the cigarette butts are not biodegradable even though they may look like they have been made of paper. If you’re a regular smoker, the first step you can take towards a sustainable lifestyle is to reduce your cigarette consumption by at least half. Not only will your lungs stay green, so will the trees around you. The more you give to the Earth, the more you will always receive. I did spot a box of organic cigarettes at an Organic grocery store I visited last week but having never tried them (and I never will), I can’t speak for it’s health or environmental benefits. If you’re passionate about both smoking and wanting to save Terra, you could perhaps give it a try. The best thing to do is to give up the habit entirely, of course. Why invite cancer even more, we’re already doing that by eating pesticide-infected food everyday.

Bathroom

I cannot emphasise enough on avoiding paper towels and tissues in restaurants and their bathrooms. Carry a small handkerchief with you at all times and use it to dry your hands when you’re done using the bathroom. It’s always good to be mindful of the waste you are generating.

Payment

Although cash is a very handy mode of payment, try going as digital as possible. Wherever there are alternatives of paying online, use payment wallets and your card. Keep the cash aside only for restaurants/cafe’s that do not accept online payments. Ask for a digital cheque/bill instead of the paper ones. In India, most restaurants today allow a digital receipt to be sent to the customer’s mobile phones. They even ask you if you want your credit/debit card paper receipt after swiping it, and you can always refuse it because your bank has already recorded the transaction digitally. If the restaurant you have visited does not have the facility of digital cheques, you can politely suggest it to them – after all, it would bring down their costs too.

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An example of the Bill I received on my cellphone

Carpool

Carpool with your friends upto whichever place possible – to and from the restaurant, walk to nearby metro stations and bus stations as much as you can and use public transport wherever feasible. I’ve personally started carpooling since the time I started my Eco Project and it’s honestly so simple to plan things with your friends and family when you need to go out. I have been avoiding public transport due to COVID-19, but once the situation is under control, I plan on using it a lot more. The Earth really doesn’t need more vehicular emissions. We don’t want all our trees to look like this, do we?

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Beautiful but lifeless twigs of a tree at Mazzo, Hyderabad, India

We want them to look like this!

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Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy, Hyderabad, India

I hope you found this guide helpful and I hope you try some of these things soon! It’s the effort that counts, climate change is inevitable but we can always slow it down and hopefully reverse a percentage of it. My dear readers, this overload of information might feel like a burden to you but as Neil Armstrong said in 1969, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

Whenever I try to take steps on the ladder of social initiatives that benefit the entire community as a whole, I find this quote from the Taittirya Samhita of the Yajurveda written by Hindu Sages very encouraging:

“Let us be together, let us eat together, let us be vital together, let us be radiating truth, radiating the light of life. Never shall we denounce anyone, never entertain negativity”

Was it worth reading? Let us know.