As someone who loves food, I love trying all the newest restaurants, food trucks, diners, and bakeries my city has to offer. However, food that isn't homemade is often served in disposable containers and accompanied by an excessive amount of disposable napkins, packaging, and those small, clear plastic cups free water comes in. While trying new food certainly makes life exciting, there are actions we can take to be kinder to the environment when eating out. 

1. Only Eat at Restaurants that Recycle

While this may sound simple, how many of us are actively aware of which restaurants do and don't recycle? I'm not saying you should condemn every aspect of a restaurant if they don't recycle, but I am saying that it's important to start noticing the presence (or absence) of recycling bins at restaurants the next time you eat out.

As someone who loves trying new restaurants and staying loyal to my favorites, I've been let down more than once by restaurants that serve great food, but don't have any kind of sustainable waste policy or recycling bins. Some of my favorite local restaurants that serve great food while encouraging recycling include Vert's Mediterranean Grill, Bouldin Creek Cafe, and Eastside Cafe. 

2. BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle)

As a devoted fan of Nalgene water bottles, I tend to carry mine everywhere I go (which I've had since high school), including casual restaurants and food trucks that I know only serve drinks in disposable cups.

You might be wondering, 'Won't people give me weird looks for whipping out a chunky water bottle at the table?!' However, I assure you that no one cares, and if you're ordering water anyway, there's no taste difference between drinking it from your own water bottle versus a disposable plastic cup.

In addition, water is healthier than the soda and sports drinks offered at restaurants, so bringing your own water bottle is a real win-win: you're putting something good into your body and reducing plastic waste that's harmful to the environment.

3. Bring Reusable Utensils to Casual Eateries

If the city you live in is anything like Austin, the food scene is culturally diverse and generously sprinkled with food trucks and hole-in-the-wall eateries. While food trucks are gems in their own respect, the costs associated with recycling and the laid-back atmosphere of food trucks often mean that most don't provide recycling bins or even use compostable food containers.

A simple, yet genius idea initiated by my dad during a family vacation abroad is to bring personal sets of reusable utensils to casual dining scenes like food trucks. Using reusable utensil sets that include only a fork, knife, and spoon can significantly reduce waste over time, creating a largely beneficial impact on the environment.

Opt for easy to wash, affordable options like this, and if you want a cuter container to hold your utensils, simply place a set in a makeup or pencil bag to take on the go. 

4. Buy Food in Bulk

Costco, anyone? As a devoted fan of the nationwide food retailer known for its high quantity (and high quality) products, buying food from Costco is a no-brainer. In addition to saving money as a college student, buying food in bulk reduces packaging by cutting down on the number of single-serve units of plastic, foil, and paper that come with individually-wrapped food items.

My favorite things to buy in bulk include large containers of all-natural yogurt, giant buckets of nuts and dried berries, packs of naan, vats of guacamole, and even boxes of canned tuna.

Buying food in bulk also makes sense if you're the only one eating it, because you don't need the single-serve containers anyway (additionally, you might be able to discourage your roommates from stealing your food if they're not into double-dipping).

5. Avoid Takeout if Possible

I get it — why would anyone ever avoid takeout if they were hungry and had no time to cook? As a college student, I know first-hand how easy it is to order food to-go, or to use any one of the food-delivery apps available these days (which I still refuse to use because I want to rely on my own two feet for food).

However, take-out really leaves no way to avoid the packaging that comes with your order, leading to unintended waste on the restaurant's part, which will always provide excess napkins and utensils to avoid customer complaints. Moreover, many of the napkins, forks, and spoons provided usually end up being thrown away or stashed at the bottom of a kitchen drawer. 

The next time you're craving takeout, ask yourself if you really need the food, or if you can cook something up yourself or with a friend that will likely be healthier for you anyway. You'll be surprised at how adaptable the human palate is, and you'll know that you're playing your part in reducing waste caused by food packaging. 

6. Use Fewer Napkins When Eating

Using fewer napkins while eating has always been apparent to me, but I still seem to be the anomaly when it comes to this. The human mouth is really only a few centimeters wide, yet napkins are, on average, 6 by 6 inches. What I started doing last semester (and everyday since) is tearing napkins in half, using only one half at a time, and saving the other half for my next meal.

I'm by no means promoting hoarding here — a pile of ragged half-sized napkins sitting in the kitchen sounds unappealing for sure —but I am promoting using what you actually need. I've found this to be a logical solution to the dilemma of napkin waste that occurs basically at every meal, every day.

7. Skip Single-Serve Coffee Cups 

Last but not least, using as few single-serve cups as possible is a wonderfully simple solution to cutting down on food packaging waste. Although I'm not a coffee-drinker, I am always horrified at how many single-serve cups the Starbucks at my university dishes out every day, every hour, even. Additionally, a large percent of those cups never even come close to the recycling bin.

If you think about it, home-brewed coffee probably tastes better than corporate coffee monopolies like Starbucks, and cuts down on the number of coffee cups many of us use every day. It's estimated that 25 billion coffee cups are thrown away in the U.S. each year! Alternatively, using coffee thermoses is an easy way to avoid disposable coffee cups that build up in landfills over time. 

Ultimately, eating new and delicious food whenever we desire is a luxury not everyone gets to experience. For those of us who do get to have these experiences, it is important to be conscious of the impact our lust for food has on the environment. The only way we can only reduce our carbon footprint during our lifetime is through being constantly aware and mindful of our actions.

If you take away one thing from this article, let it be a more open-minded approach to eating that combats food packaging waste. Start small and incorporate daily routines — pack that water bottle, reusable utensil set, and thermos the next time you head to lunch — and over time, like me, you'll look back and be amazed at how you enjoyed food any other way.