D.C. bag law, one month on

The District of Columbia law requiring a fee for disposable bags in food and liquor businesses is reducing the demand for thee bags, even if it irritates some locals.

No official reports yet, but shopkeepers report half the use of disposable bags — quite an accomplishment — per this January 23 article in the Washington Post. Of course, there are naysayers and complainers. But I have a hard time thinking too much D.C. grocery and liquor shopping will move to Maryland or Virginia. Particularly the latter which has a food tax that D.C. doesn’t. And if you can’t remember to bring a bag to pick up your lunch — or eat it on-site — and won’t pay for a bag, then I feel no sympathy when it lands on the sidewalk. Twice. How embarrassing, so much so when adding meaningless “big government” sloganeering to counter it. (Nobody complains about “big government” when the city shuts down a rat-infested eatery, for instance. Why shouldn’t I have the option!)

On the other hand, it’s now psychologically and socially easier to bring my bag — I keep one rolled up in my satchel almost all of the time — to a take-out restaurant (I have featured one in the article as they use sugarcane fiber boxes and biodegradable forks and spoons) or a liquor store.

A tiny, IKEA plastic reduction

First, I enjoy IKEA for an outing — even though they inflict so much plastic on the world. Even the chair I’m sitting on. I’m not going to apologize for a faux-Swedish experience.

But last night, at their College Park, Maryland location, I noticed a sign in their cafe that said they no longer give out plastic straws and cited environmental concerns.

A small cheer, I thought. Not a huge amount of plastic saved, but someone’s listening. Then I wondered if they may be composting their trash. The straws might be the only un-biodegradable trash they produce in the cafe, apart from the odd bottlecap. In that case, the straws would be a considerable part of their waste stream, and ripe for removal.

Is there anyone out there who have some info?

The key to plastic tubs

My husband and I used to get soup from the Chinese take-out across the street almost every week. But we moved last September, and changed our usual mode of eating well before that. So how old are those plastic tubs? A year, more?

They’re still fine: no cracks, stains or signs of damage. Why? A office mate once scolded me for microwave-heating up leftovers in one of them. He was more concerned about chemicals leaching into my food, but I realized that heating these tubs damaged them, ruining them and sending them to the landfill.

Now I also have a few durable, water-tight plastic containers I bought. These should last for years. But I also use the soup containers with one inalterable rule.

Don’t put them in the microwave

Lunch watch: Indian lunch near K Street

Blast! I don’t recall the name of the new Indian place near the northwest corner of 19th and K St, N.W. here in Washington. It’s new-ish, and does have the word Spice in it. Being the BB&T bank, if you’re approaching from K Street.

For about $7.50, I got the rice-plus-two-curry special. Not greasy. Was tasty, but I doubt it’ll make anyone’s mind reel back to hot nights in Rajasthan.

This restaurant is two doors down from the eco-vegan Java Green Cafe, which uses some compostable take-away serving pieces. But I don’t care for the food and it’s much more expensive. So ecologically minded vegans are already heading to the area, explaining perhaps the conspicuous signs for vegan fare. (There’s plenty of meat and dairy options.)

I got my chana, palak paneer and rice in a sugarcane fiber clamshell carton. I declined the plastic bag and walked past the waxy-colored compostable plastic forks. I suppose if I had asked for pickle or chutney I would have gotten some plastic — these were pre-dished in little plastic tubs — and, to tell the truth, it would have benefited from the extra spice.

But I will go back.

Airport eating: Charlotte

I’m back from Georgia! (You didn’t know I was away?) I changed flights in Charlotte (CLT) and had a plastic-free meal in the airport. Thought I had better record this miracle.

Since I knew I was in store for a meat-heavy weekend (hi Mom!) I looked for a Mexican-ish meal in the airport, since that’s been better luck for vegetarian fare. Stopped by Salsarita’s, a Charlotte-based and South-heavy Mexicanesque chain.

I asked for a vegetarian burrito — ordered “for here” — which came wrapped in foil, nested in deli paper in a paper french-fry-style basket. If you’re worried the paper products are plastic coated (they may be) I bet you could ask for your burrito as-is.

Alas, looking at “to go” orders and fountain drinks, you get several kinds of plastic, so be careful.

Lunch watch: China Cafe

China Cafe is one of those hole-in-the-wall lunch places near my office that offers a cheap meal ($4.50-$7) served with lots of plastic: foam clamshell containers and cups with polystyrene tableware on formica tabletops. The country is full of places like this. Great if you’re going out with some office mates — which I did Friday; hi gang! — and thanks to one of our own who tipped me off, I went with a plan.

Turns out they offer in addition to the usual stir-fried-X-on-white-rice meals, a tasty Szechuan beef noodle soup, served in a melamine bowl. And I’m OK with melamine dishes (so long as there’s no melamine in the food.)  Knowing I wanted the soup, I brought along a proper spoon, more because the spoons they have are so small and useless for eating soup than the plastic savings.

Won’t do that too often — I so rarely eat beef; there wasn’t a vegetarian option — but it’s nice to know you can. And it was very good.

China Cafe (Yelp)

Snack watch: hot chocolate at Tangy Sweet

I live near one of that new generation of frou-frou frozen yogurt places, Tangysweet. Dramatic interior. Tasty, tart sweet treat. They’re served in an Econtainer, a paper cup which “contains NatureWorks(c) PLA”. (one vendor) So paper with the so-called corn plastic. Theoretically compostable, and certainly more compostable than a spoon or pen (which you can get made of PLA). But good enough if I just want a special treat out with Hubby.

The spoons they use, alas, are plain ol’ plastic. (I’m guessing polystyrene, #6.)

You could bring a spoon, I guess. Or, for the winter, get hot chocolate. Extraordinarily rich and deep-flavored, and it doesn’t need a spoon. They were giving out samples tonight in little Econtainers, and the full-sized ones are “on the way.” If you’re in D.C. and need a reduced-plastic treat out, you might want to stop by.

View Larger Map

Lunch watch: Zorba’s

I work very near Dupont Circle, a central business and residential neighborhood in Washington, D.C., which also gets much tourist traffic. So I figured I could record my luck finding good food options for locals and visitors.

With this in mind, I asked some work colleagues today, “Lunch?”

My stipulation was (of course) no disposible plastic, my willing lunch mate wanted soup: we agreed on Zorba’s Cafe, at  1612 20th Street NW, two blocks north of Dupont Circle. Greek cuisine, and tasty. Since I also eat vegetarian food whenever possible, Greek food was a good option. Today, I had manestra (orzo pasta in a light tomato sauce; I think kids would like this too) and a large portion of tzatziki with pita. Last time it was bean soup and an olive roll, which my lunch mate had today.

My food was served in durable melamine bowls. Set lunches come on ceramic plates. I drank ice water, which I served myself from pitchers near the counter, using durable plastic cups. The flatware was metal, wrapped in a paper napkin. (Take out orders get plastic ware, though the soup comes in a paper cup with — I believe — a paper lid.) No disposable plastic.

Yes, the dishes were plastic, but I figure it this way. Common objections to plastic use include their high energy imputs, their ultimate unrecyclability and their very, very long life as refuse. Glass or ceramic dishes — considering glass dishes aren’t ordinarily recyclable — have the same liabilities.

Feel free to disagree with me, but also be sure to include Zorba’s on your list of green-lighted eateries in D.C.

View Larger Map