Friday, October 07, 2005


How long will the Chinese food take-home container survive? One standard box has a clear plastic top but a metal body that makes it impossible to use in a microwave — a bit odd considering microwave ovens have been around since 1947 and are estimated to be in about 95 percent of U.S. households.

Even worse is the classic white cardboard version of the Chinese take-home box, the kind with the tiny metal handle. This handle must be less than 5 percent of the container, but it, too, means the box cannot be microwaved.

Although almost all Chinese food leftovers are excellent cold, the presence of the metal bits is gallingly contradictory and suggestive of a pointlessly provocative epicurean conspiracy. If the boxes are good enough to hold the food in the first place, why aren’t we able to heat in them and eat from them? It’s like mass manufacturing umbrellas with a single part that musn’t get wet, and nobody seems to mind.

There are all-plastic alternatives out there, folks. Let’s start ordering from different catalogs.


Indri said...

Or--stay with me here--you could dump the food out of the unacceptable container into a bowl and microwave the food in the bowl. Versus adding more petroleum-based plastic to the waste stream.

Just a thought.

Scape7 said...

The plastic dishes are recycled — washed and reused to hold leftovers, as attested to by a somewhat alarming number of them in the Tupperware drawer at home. (It wasn't my takeout, unfortunately.) The other kinds of take-home container, being no good for reuse, get thrown away or, at best, washed out and put with the recycling (where available). More water is used to wash the bowls you put the food in to eat when you can't reheat it in the box.

Unless there's some evidence that the petroleum used to make the reusable plastic is harder on Mother Earth than the water and waste of the paper, thinner plastic and metal, I'd come down on the side of convenience.

But, yes, I had actually thought of the putting-it-in-a-bowl trick.

Anonymous said...

I don't have a lot of faith that microwaving plastic is a good idea so I'm in favor of dumping into a ceramic bowl.

But if you want to do the most environmentally sound thing, you could just eat all your food and not have a reheating and new-clean-dish problem.

Hey, do you know that our town does not recycle pizza boxes?

Scape7 said...

Cambridge says it doesn't accept pizza boxes, but it tends to. Its right hand doesn't know what its left hand is doing, and what its left hand is doing is recycling pizza boxes.

Or at least picking them up. Lord only knows what happens to them when they're taken from the recycling bin.

Anyway, one can't always eat all the food one is given at restaurants these days. Sometimes the portions are a little out of control. Eat it and get fat, leave it and be wasteful, take it and be environmentally reckless ... sometimes there are no good choices. But sometimes there's Jell-O.

Brian Wanamaker said...

Only a bachelor would call putting take out food on something resembling a plate "the putting-it-in-a-bowl trick."

Indri said...

Hey Brian--I regularly eat my dinner straight out of the pot I've cooked it in. Does that mean I can call myself a bachelor? I've always wanted to! Yippee!

Marc--I'm just all stressed out about peak oil, and things made out of petroleum. And what I want to know is... why are there always so many more lids than containers, or vice versa? I'm here to tell you that this is also true in the homes of the wealthy. As a caterer, I've seen those drawers. Being rich does not make one immune to the problem.

Although being rich does seem to mean that one has a lot more baskets. I can't figure it out. Do rich people receive more gift baskets than we working poor do?

Anonymous said...

Re: washing a bowl v. using disposable (even if you don't dispose of it), water is used in the recycling process and in the manufacturing process... if you run a bowl under a tap I'm guessing you're not raping the planet any more than any other choice.

So, does cooking your own food affect the planet more or less than getting food from a communal kitchen in disposable containers? I prefer the paper containers-- I dump it into a bowl, and rip off the handle and stick the container into the paper recycling bag. It's not a big dilemma for me since we don't often use the communal kitchen. But maybe by using my own kitchen I'm using more energy & water.

You could try bringing your own containers to the restaurant for leftovers... but that's kind of crazy. I bring bags to the grocery store and that is probably my limit of extreme environmental-advocate behavior.

Scape7 said...

I try to "live small" in general, but I'm not sure I'm up to bringing containers to a restaurant to bring home food. Let's hope it all balances out.

Anyway, I don't know what the hell was wrong with us over on Blake Street. We wound up with far more container bottoms than tops.

3Jake said...

I like Chinese food.
The waiters never are rude...

Scape7 said...


Brian Wanamaker said...

Indri, the eating-out-of-the-cooking-pot-trick is just common sense. Occasional side effects are sadness and lonely-ism, which is handily counteracted by keeping whip-it cannisters at hand.