Yes, Takeout Orders Are Up – But That Doesn’t Mean Packaging Waste Should Be

Our love (and in the case of pandemic lockdowns – necessity) for takeout is undeniable. The problem is, with all that takeout comes a whole lot of unnecessary packaging waste. According to Ellen MacArthur, about 30% of plastic packaging will never be reused or recycled. Think about all those unused plastic utensils at the bottom of your takeout bag. The ones that end up in the bin or at the back of the kitchen drawer. Think about the plastic wrapping around the plastic food containers (and the plastic bag it all comes in). That’s a lot of plastic in one sentence. And that’s a lot of plastic for one meal.

Then there’s everything else: the boxes, the wad of napkins, and the seemingly countless condiment sachets. It’s a lot. Sure, you can recycle some of it (but not as much as you think), but that’s not the point. We want to talk about waste minimization. Here are six ways you can minimize packaging waste and still enjoy the convenience of ordering takeout.


1. Support Restaurants that Offer Reusable Packaging Alternatives

This one’s easy because more and more restaurants are offering these alternatives. Alternatives like Vytal. This German startup gives restaurants and consumers the option to choose reusable packaging over more traditional packaging using an app. It’s affordable and convenient: all you have to do is download the app, register, and then check the map to see which partners (restaurants) are nearby. Simple. You’ll get your food in Vytal’s reusable bowls, which you’ll return within 14 days. When you return them, they’ll be cleaned and used again.

There are many other options like this popping up all over the world, so keep an eye out and support them whenever you can. If your go-to takeout restaurant doesn’t offer any reusable alternatives, consider telling them, online and off, the changes you’d like to see. Use your voice (and your wallet) to make a difference!


2. Ask for What You (Don’t) Want

Like most single-use items. There’s usually a notes section on food ordering apps where you can tell the restaurant you are ordering from that you don’t want your food to arrive in a plastic bag, or that you don’t want any napkins, straws, plastic utensils, or condiment sachets.


3. Reuse What You Do Get

Reuse’ is the next best thing after ‘reduce’. If your salad comes in a sturdy plastic container, wash it and reuse it (think leftovers, packed lunches, junk drawer organizers).

Warning: If you reuse your plastic food containers for food items, check the bottom to see what kind of plastic the container is made from. All plastic products are labeled with a recycling symbol, a number from one to seven. Plastic containers with the recycling code 2 (high-density polyethylene, HDPE), 4 (low-density polyethylene, LDPE) and 5 (polypropylene, PP) are the safest for food reuse, until they start to show signs of wear. 

To be safe, avoid reusing any plastic containers (for food) with any of the other recycling numbers.


4. Recycle – Don’t Wishcycle

Make sure you know what your local recycling facility can and can’t recycle before you throw items into your curbside recycling bin (you can check your local government’s website to confirm their specific guidelines). Why is this so important?

Throwing an item into recycling that can’t be recycled at your local facility could contaminate all the materials in that batch (example: a cheese-encrusted pizza box will contaminate other paper products in your bin, which means sending all of those recyclables to the ground).

If in doubt, throw the item in your regular bin instead.


5. Watch What You Order

You know you’ve ordered too much sushi when it’s just you and the restaurant has sent five sets of chopsticks with your order. Food waste in the restaurant industry is a huge issue.

When a substantial amount of your food order ends up in the bin, not only do you waste the resources that went into making that food (and end up with a pile of unnecessary packaging), but you increase the amount of methane that gets emitted (the greenhouse gas from food waste in landfills) into the environment.

Know how hungry you really are and order accordingly. If you’re not that hungry, why not order off the kiddies menu, or share with someone?


6. Fetching Your Own Takeout? Bring Your Own Containers

Put all those Tupperware’s to good use and bring them along when you fetch your order. Easy.


Moving towards a waste-free life doesn’t have to mean giving up the things you love (or need)! It just means making small changes where you can.

Be intentional and be mindful of waste. These tips may seem like small, largely insignificant changes that won’t make much difference in the grand scheme of things, but every small action adds up.

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