Would You Pay a Quarter for a Green Take-Out Box?

Published on January 11th, 2011 | by

Last Saturday, I had the adventurous experience of dining at Herwig’s Austrian Bistro in State College, PA (“Where Bacon Is an Herb”).

After being confronted by a table talker informing me that no takeout boxes would be provided (since I was expected to eat all my food), my friend and I were faced with what to do with this mound of greasy, sloppy meat and kraut that remained on his plate. That left us with no option but to plead for a takeout box.

This is always an exciting time at Herwig’s and results in the bringing out of a large red paddle onto which the takeout box is placed. The box is then hurled through the air, and if you can catch the box before getting hit with the paddle, you can keep it.

Before being subjected to this ritual, however, we were first presented with an option: to play the game to obtain a microwavable, biodegradable “green” box that cost a quarter or to play the game to obtain a styrofoam box that was free but would live in a landfill forever. Good stewards of the environment that we are, we chose the green box.

My friend faced the paddle, and in spite of the fact that I tried to deflect the box by throwing a heavy pair of gloves at it, there was a successful outcome and he did not get whacked with the big red board.

I did question the owner, however, whether he’d brought the correct box since the one paddled was not, in fact green but vanilla. I must wonder if my sarcasm won me some points since he never did ask for the quarter.

In all seriousness, I applaud Herwig’s for offering the green option and asking customers to pay for it. Like many small, independent restaurants, Herwig’s pays more for its supplies than large chains do. I went online and checked out the takeout containers (called Greenwave) and they cost $43.99 for a 300-pack — $.14 apiece. If they buy them in smaller quantities, it’s $.21 apiece. That’s a hefty nick off the margin for environmental conscience’ sake. Remember, we’re talking about a small, 24-seat restaurant here.

I don’t know whether Herwig’s actually requires a quarter from its less quick-witted customers, but offering green containers does cost a restaurant more money. If asking customers to defray the cost means the restaurant can offer a greener option, so be it.

Not every restaurant has the moxy to ask customers to fork up a quarter for a box, but why shouldn’t they? Whether it’s a restaurant or other business, shouldn’t we — as customers — be willing to support the willingness of small businesses to provide more environmentally responsible options by paying a little extra? Grocery stores ask us to pay $1 to buy cloth shopping bags. Why shouldn’t small business owners ask customers to pay extra for green takeout boxes, wrapping paper, or retail bags?

Of course, you could just intimidate customers into carrying their purchases in their hands. That would be greener. As for me, I just wrapped my leftover wienerschnitzel in a napkin.


About the Author

Heidi Tolliver-Walker has been a commercial and digital printing industry analyst, feature writer, columnist, editor, and author for nearly 20 years. She is known for her meticulous research and no-nonsense perspective. In addition to having written thousands of industry articles for top industry publications, she and Richard Romano have been the face of the well-respected industry research firm The Industry Measure (TrendWatch Graphic Arts) for many years. In her more than 13-year tenure with the firm, she has written countless reports on digital printing, 1:1 (personalized) printing, Web-to-print, personalized URLs, and other hot industry applications. She is also a long-time contributing editor and columnist for Printing News, for which she writes two monthly columns, including "Personal Effects," which features monthly analysis of 1:1 (personalized) printing case studies. She is also the author of three titles for the National Association of Printing Leadership: Designer's Printing Companion, Ink & Color: A Printer's Guide, and Diversifying Via Value-Added Services. As a small, niche publisher (Strong Tower Publishing), she is active in utilizing these technologies in her own business, as well.