This is an excerpt from Becoming a Sustainable Runner by Christina Muir & Zoë H. Rom.
When it comes to eating throughout your stay, try to select restaurants that are either plant-based or have plenty of plant-based options. Restaurants that are known for working with local farms and using organic ingredients are likely to have compostable packaging and try to minimize their environmental impact. Look for places that donate their remaining food to food banks or shelters, supporting the community and minimizing waste. If you have children, be sure to bring along their water bottles (along with your own!) rather than using plastic cups at restaurants. Bring a travel-sized container of dish soap to easily wash your utensils and water bottles.
If you return to your room to eat, be sure to wash out plastic containers with soap before putting them in the recycling bin. It is estimated that only 9 percent of plastic ever made since the 1950s has been recycled (with 12% being incinerated and 79% ending up in a landfill). It is also estimated that roughly 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste—weighing more than 36,000 Empire State Buildings—will be in landfills or the natural environment by 2050 (Geyer et al. 2017). Yuck.
One major reason for the low recycling rate is because when plastic is contaminated by food or anything else, it is thrown into a landfill or ends up in the ocean. For many municipalities, any recycling in plastic bags, any plastic that still has food on it, plastic cups with straws still inside, or plastic that has something unrecyclable still attached will almost certainly be thrown into the trash. This is why we could have easily found Tina climbing inside commercial trash cans when she worked with the sustainability team at the Chicago Marathon in 2022. One contaminated item can change the trajectory of an entire bin. The same rules apply to our at-home recycling too. We should check our local recycling policy to see if washing recyclables with soap and removing any items that cannot be recycled (yes, even if they have the triangle logo) is required in our area. Single-stream and dual-stream recycling have different rules, so be sure to check local recycling guidelines. And most plastic bags for produce or anything made from a soft plastic usually has to be taken to a store; sending them to the recycling facility through your at-home pickup will cause problems for the sorting center.
Does it feel uncomfortable to ask a hotel or restaurant what they are doing to improve their sustainability or reduce their impact on the environment? Absolutely, but ultimately, businesses want to survive and thrive. By asking, we are letting them know that this issue is important to us, and if they hear even a few of those requests, it may be enough for them to seriously consider what they can do to be part of the solution.