An image of foil takeout containers in an article about whether foil takeout containers are sustainable

How sustainable are foil takeout containers?

Several restaurants and food businesses choose to package takeout orders in foil containers. Foil containers are highly effective at retaining heat. This allows food operators to serve customers perfect, ready-to-eat meals at the ideal temperature – making it the ideal packaging for takeout options and delivery. 

More so, aluminium foil takeout containers are light, flexible, and hygienic. Additionally, they are non-toxic and highly effective in retaining the aroma of foods. Due to the flexibility of the material, foil takeout containers can be easily customised with creative shapes, embossing and printing for brand identification and consumer appeal. 

That said, several studies indicate consumers have a growing interest in sustainable packaging. As of January 2023, over 80% of consumers are demanding sustainable packaging for their products. Therefore, many wonder whether foil takeout containers can be recycled or at least reused by consumers. 

Are foil containers an effective packaging solution? 

While aluminium foil containers are a practical packaging solution for food products, there are several factors to consider before making a switch. For example, foil containers are often more cost-effective than cardboard takeaway boxes. Some foil containers are available at around $55.54 for 500, while cardboard containers cost around $45.73 for 300. In this case, the foil containers win out in price against cardboard. 

Foil takeout containers also offer an excellent barrier to outside air, which makes them effective at retaining heat for long periods. It is important to note they may lose heat if left for around 30 and 40 minutes, which is the average time of getting a food delivery to someone’s door. 

Aluminum also provides a complete barrier against moisture, light, and oxygen, even as a very thin foil. This preserves the quality, safety, and aroma of food products that are packaged within it while requiring very little material. Foods packaged with aluminium are safe from bacterial contamination, and oxidation, as well as moisture and light, which can compromise product integrity.

Aluminium foil’s key sustainability strength is its endless recyclability. As it is one of the few packaging materials that does not degrade through the recycling loop, aluminium foil can be used and recycled an infinite number of times. It is estimated 75% of all the aluminium ever made is still in use somewhere in the world in one form or another. 

However, producing aluminium foil packaging requires a lot of electricity. The containers are formed by applying mechanical air pressure to force the foil into shape using a die and cavity method. Due to the amount of energy required, aluminium can be fairly expensive to produce. However, this is also why it has such a high recycling value. 

In spite of this, landfills are full of foil takeout containers that have been discarded after one use. Disposing of foil containers properly is often the biggest hurdle when managing waste, but it can be done. In Europe, for example, 55% of aluminium foil is recycled and appropriately managed.

An image of a fast food operator packing a takeaway order into an aluminium container n an article about whether foil takeout containers are sustainable

Are foil takeout containers reusable? 

Foil takeout containers are reusable and can be helpful in many situations. For instance, consumers can reuse them to pack lunches. They are also highly convenient when used for meal preparation for the week, as they can store single portions for meals that will be cooked later in the week. 

Other great ways to use foil takeout containers include:

  • Using them to store food that has been purchased in bulk.
  • Use them for plates on a picnic or other outdoor eating activity
  • Organise tools or other small objects with them 

Those who are unlikely to hang on to foil containers should ensure they are properly recycled. First, consumers must ensure no food or debris is in the container and that it has been cleaned well. The consumers can place them in the recycling bin alongside the appropriate waste. The key is ensuring no food is left in the containers, as this will negate their ability to be recycled. 

An image of fast food orders packaged in aluminium foil takeaway boxes in an article about whether foil takeout containers are sustainable

Should restaurants encourage consumers to reuse takeout packaging? 

It is important to note that highly acidic foods may affect the integrity of foil containers. Within a few days, the acidity of the ingredients is likely to erode the foil. This can create undesirable flavours within the food, and decrease the quality. 

While this may not happen when food is delivered to a customer, the risk is there if the meal is left to sit for long periods before consumption. It is advisable for restaurants to avoid serving acidic foods in foil takeout containers when possible. 

This begs the question of whether or not these establishments should encourage customers to reuse the foil takeout containers provided. There are several pros to investing in foil takeout containers, such as reducing the carbon footprint of the business

That said, cons include a risk of consumers becoming annoyed with the amount of packaging that arrives with their meals. More so, consumers may misuse the containers and may not recycle them properly. 

The best way to ensure foil takeout containers are being recycled is by telling customers how to do so. Restaurants of fast food operators could offer a discount to those who bring back clean, ready-to-recycle containers. The establishment then manages its disposal, while also promoting further sales. The most straightforward way is to customise takeout containers with clear instructions on how they can be recycled.

Foil takeout containers can be a convenient and easy way to package orders for delivery. They have the ability to be reused in many different ways and offer customers the option to be more sustainable with their dining choices. 

Be sure to know precisely how these containers can be recycled and reused in order to convey to your guests your ability to work in an environmentally conscious manner. By investing in sustainable food packaging and actively marketing themselves as an eco-conscious brand, restaurants can widen their customer market to include those who live an eco-friendly lifestyle. 

Discover 5 additional sustainable food packaging options to help boost the sustainability of your business.