6 Easy Ways to Reduce Takeout Plastic & Waste
Last Updated: June 29, 2022
We love ordering takeout, but we don’t love the extra plastic and waste that comes with it. Learn a few tips and tricks to make takeout more eco-friendly.
Some of us put in a lot of effort to incorporate sustainability into our daily lives. Every little thing helps the planet—using reusables, recycling properly, composting at home—especially if we all contribute.
But when you order delicious takeout from your favorite neighborhood spot, suddenly you’re bombarded with a ton of single-use plastic silverware, straws, packaging, containers, and other bits and bobs.
Throwing all of that out after one meal can feel like a huge waste. The problem is that most takeout material cannot be recycled. Combined with the plastic waste and recycling management crises facing the world, ordering takeout can feel like a bad idea.
"Our tendency to opt for what is convenient often leads to waste", says Alexandra Bede, Senior Manager of Sustainability at Grove Collaborative. "With a few intentional and mindful changes, we all can reduce the amount of single-use, plastic waste when ordering from our favorite takeout spot."
Instead of giving up and never ordering takeout again, let’s break down what we can do and what we can avoid to make takeout a little more bearable for the planet.
Why should you avoid plastic takeout food containers?
When ordering takeout from most restaurants, your food is stored and delivered in a dizzying array of plastic containers, ranging from full-sized pho containers to tiny sauce lids. Regardless of size, a majority of these plastic to-go food containers cannot be recycled.
Ever notice how oily food somehow doesn’t stain paper takeout containers? That’s because paper and plastic takeout containers are lined with varying films, usually designed to make the plastic itself more temperature- and grease-resistant. This additional lining also makes the containers non-recyclable.
While some to-go containers are made with recyclable materials, they’re usually made from plastics that are hard to recycle. Many recyclable takeout containers use #5 polypropylene plastic, which, while technically recyclable, is not curbside recyclable in many states, meaning you’ll have to research the rules for your particular county or city.
Aside from recyclability and waste production, another major turnoff of takeout containers is the possibility of nasty chemicals. Plenty of heat-resistant, flexible plastics contain phthalates and bisphenol-A (BPA), which have both been linked to potential health issues.
What to do with plastic takeout containers
If you’re ever faced with a barrage of plastic to-go containers after a meal, you should always check to see if any of them are recyclable. Depending on where you live, you may have to drop them off at a special bin or facility in order for them to be properly recycled.
Can you microwave takeout containers?
It depends. In general, any single-use plastic containers or aluminum containers should not be microwaved. Those lined paper containers often used at Chinese restaurants can be microwaved after you remove any metal handles going through the paper.
Plastic containers with the #5 recycling symbol are usually microwave safe, but again, they may contain chemicals you want to avoid anyway.
How do I reduce takeout plastics?
There are lots of different ways to reduce our intake of takeout plastics. Here are three ways that are easy and accessible.
Support better takeout containers
While most takeout plastics are garbage, not all takeout containers are. Eco-friendly bioplastic containers and biodegradable paper containers exist and are used by some environmentally-minded restaurants. Support these establishments! If your favorite food place doesn’t use these kinds of containers, consider kindly encouraging them to switch.
Skip the silverware
If you're using a food delivery app or ordering over the phone, you should always remember to ask to exclude silverware, napkins, and condiments you already have at home. These little additions are almost always made of single-use plastics, sometimes covered in additional plastic packaging. It’s much better to use reusable silverware, paper towels, chopsticks, straws, and the like.
Pickup with reusable containers
If you plan on picking up your food order, some restaurants will let you bring your own food containers and carry your order out in those instead of their containers. This is still fairly rare, so be sure to call ahead and ask if this is an option. Barging in unannounced with a stack of glassware is a surefire way to create a commotion.
What can I use instead of plastic containers?
At home, there are plenty of non-plastic food storage options to utilize.
One of the simplest alternatives to plastic is glass. Glass mason jars are great for liquids, salads, dry goods, and more. You can use special heat-treated glass containers for leftovers you plan on microwaving or putting in the oven. Most glass is crystal clear and free of chemicals like BPA.
Another great option is silicone. Like a reusable, more heavy duty plastic, silicone is great for everything from school lunches to steamed vegetables. Most quality silicone food bags are made without BPA, phthalates, or other lining chemicals, so they are perfect for all kinds of food storage needs.
We use steel to cook, serve, and eat food all the time, so why not use it to store food, too? There are tons of chic stainless steel food containers that are perfect for home storage and meals on the go. The only thing you need to remember is that steel, like aluminum, should not go in the microwave. But the oven and freezer are a-okay!
We’re not saying you should never order takeout again. Supporting your local restaurants and food places is a good thing! But with a bit of planning, we can all have delicious, convenient food without a ton of plastic in the garbage afterwards.
What is Grove Collaborative?
From natural household to personal care, everything at Grove is healthier for you and the planet — and works! We recommend monthly shipments and product refills that you can edit or move at any time. No monthly fees or commitments required.
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