Doggy bags – a good deed for the environment

While a common feature of restaurants in America, the humble doggy bag remains a rarity in Sweden, something an eco-conscious consumer group wants to see change, Lina Sennevall discovers.

Doggy bags - a good deed for the environment

We have all been there. Sat in a restaurant, stomach so full we’re about to explode but with food still left on the plate.

The Stockholm Consumer Cooperative Society (Konsumentföreningen Stockholm-KfS) has found that Swedes are often too embarrassed to ask for their leftovers in a bag, and hope that a new film focusing on the environmental impact of food waste will help to change restaurant culture.

“Producing food requires a lot of resources and produces negative environmental emissions to both air and water. If the food is then thrown away, all the environmental impact has been in vain,” says Louise Ungerth, head of consumer and environment at KfS.

According to Ungerth, a rough estimate shows that 300,000 tonnes of food is being thrown away in Swedish restaurants every year, with a big part being leftovers from customer’s plates.

In a recent survey carried out by KfS, 80 per cent of restaurant goers said they never ask for a “doggy bag”. The survey indicates that the main reasons are that it’s embarrassing and impractical.

“I think that making people aware of the environmental issues of food waste will be a wake up call for a lot of people who haven’t thought about this before and hopefully it will make them feel less embarrassed to ask for ‘doggy bags’,” says Ungerth.

KfS’ new informational video offers tips on how to make food last longer and to cut waste and features Swedish rap star Dogge Doggelito.

Kim Pettersson, headwaiter at Stockholm restaurant Ulla Winbladh, says that the restaurant does offer doggy bags, but it is often only American guests who use the service.

“We do have ‘doggy bags’ in case our custumers should ask but it’s not very common that they do. Most people that do are either Americans or people who have been to countries where it’s more common.”

Whether it’s actually for your pooch or not, asking your waiter for a ‘doggy bag’ is something that’s considered the norm in even the fanciest restaurants in America.

But even though some nicer restaurants in Sweden might look at you with a furrowed brow if you ask for a ‘doggy bag’, most restaurants asked in the survey said that they would gladly pack up leftovers for their customers.

Some even said they would even consider offering “doggy bags” to custumers who still had food left on their plates to make it less embarrassing.

“We rather offer them a ‘doggy bag’ first before we throw the food away,” Kim Pettersson tells The Local.

According to the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (Naturskyddsföreningen), one third of Sweden’s collective impact on the environ comes from food production.

In a similar attempt to reduce food waste in the UK, it was calculated that the annual emission of carbon dioxide could be reduced by 18 million tonnes. This would have the same affect as taking one in five cars off the roads.

The KfS is not only trying to change people’s habits in restaurants but also at home where almost half of Sweden’s annual food waste happens, according to Ungerth.

Information published on their website includes tips, information and recipes using leftover ingredients.

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The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager’s dream

Although parts of Sweden are still under snow at this time of year, spring is in full swing here in Skåne in the south of Sweden. Here are The Local's top tips for what you can forage in the great outdoors this season.

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager's dream

You might already have your go-to svampställe where you forage mushrooms in autumn, but mushrooms aren’t the only thing you can forage in Sweden. The season for fruits and berries hasn’t quite started yet, but there is a wide range of produce on offer if you know where to look.

Obviously, all of these plants grow in the wild, meaning it’s a good idea to wash them thoroughly before you use them. You should also be respectful of nature and of other would-be foragers when you’re out foraging, and make sure not to take more than your fair share to ensure there’s enough for everyone.

As with all foraged foods, only pick and eat what you know. The plants in this guide do not look similar to any poisonous plants, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry – or ask someone who knows for help.

Additionally, avoid foraging plants close to the roadside or in other areas which could be more polluted. If you haven’t tried any of these plants before, start in small doses to make sure you don’t react negatively to them.

Wild garlic plants in a park in Alnarpsparken, Skåne. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Wild garlic

These pungent green leaves are just starting to pop up in shady wooded areas, and may even hang around as late as June in some areas. Wild garlic or ramsons, known as ramslök in Swedish, smell strongly of garlic and have wide, flat, pointed leaves which grow low to the ground.

The whole plant is edible: leaves, flowers and the bulbs underground – although try not to harvest too many bulbs or the plants won’t grow back next year.

The leaves have a very strong garlic taste which gets weaker once cooked. Common recipes for wild garlic include pesto and herb butter or herbed oil, but it can generally be used instead of traditional garlic in most recipes. If you’re cooking wild garlic, add it to the dish at the last possible moment so it still retains some flavour.

You can also preserve the flower buds and seed capsules as wild garlic capers, known as ramslökskapris in Swedish, which will then keep for up to a year.

Stinging nettles. Wear gloves when harvesting these to protect yourself from their needles. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Stinging nettles

Brännässlor or stinging nettles need to be cooked before eating to remove their sting, although blanching them for a couple of seconds in boiling water should do the trick. For the same reason, make sure you wear good gardening gloves when you pick them so you don’t get stung.

Nettles often grow in the same conditions as wild garlic – shady woodlands, and are often regarded as weeds.

The younger leaves are best – they can get stringy and tough as they get older.

A very traditional use for brännässlor in Sweden is nässelsoppa, a bright green soup made from blanched nettles, often topped with a boiled or poached egg.

Some Swedes may also remember eating stuvade nässlor with salmon around Easter, where the nettles are cooked with cream, butter and milk. If you can’t get hold of nettles, they can be replaced with spinach for a similar result.

You can also dry nettles and use them to make tea, or use blanched nettles to make nettle pesto.

Kirskål or ground elder, another popular foraged green for this time of year.
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Ground elder

Ground elder is known as kirskål in Swedish, and can be used much in the same way as spinach. It also grows in shady areas, and is an invasive species, meaning that you shouldn’t be too worried about foraging too much of it (you might even find some in your garden!).

It is quite common in parks and old gardens, but can also be found in wooded areas. The stems and older leaves can be bitter, so try to focus on foraging the tender, younger leaves.

Ground elder has been cultivated in Sweden since at least 500BC, and has been historically used as a medicinal herb and as a vegetable. This is one of the reasons it can be found in old gardens near Swedish castles or country homes, as it was grown for use in cooking.

Kirskål is available from March to September, although it is best eaten earlier in the season.

As mentioned, ground elder can replace spinach in many recipes – you could also use it for pesto, in a quiche or salad, or to make ground elder soup.