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A guide to disposing of takeaway packaging

Two decades ago, restaurant-quality food delivery was largely limited to meals such as pizza and Chinese. Today, the food delivery market has reached a worth of over $150 billion, having more than tripled since 2017. In the US alone, the takeaway food market more than doubled during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

This phenomenal growth has forced restaurant operators to adapt quickly and reach new customers in a safe and contact-free way. That said, it has also increased the rise in single-use takeaway packaging, with consumers generating over 10 kgs of plastic waste in food deliveries every year. 

Notably, food delivery services expect to have an 11.5% increase in revenue globally by the end of 2023. Therefore, business owners and consumers must educate themselves on how to dispose of the various forms of takeaway containers. 

Disposing of paper takeaway packaging

Paper and paperboard-based materials are one of the earliest and largest used packaging forms for food products. While most of this can go into the recycling bin, there are some cases where paper packaging gets too soiled to go in with clean paper for recycling.

For instance, many believe that paper packaging that is heavily soiled with food products or grease may not be recycled. However, a recent study conducted by GreenBiz found that factors such as grease and cheese had minimal impact on the fibres of the packaging materials, and did not hinder their ability to be recycled.

The study revealed that corrugated pizza boxes in the recycling stream have an average grease content of 1% to 2% by weight level, and the fibre structures are barely affected by the residue. Overall, the study shows there is no reason to prohibit used pizza boxes from the recycling stream.

According to conserve-energy-future.com, ‘the corrugated cardboard, made from paper liners, also means that they are biodegradable, making them excellent candidates for the composting bin.’

Therefore, the proper way to recycle a pizza box, for example, would be to recycle only the parts of the box that are not contaminated with food and debris. If the bottom of the pizza box is saturated in grease, consumers should simply cut that out and recycle the rest of the box. 

Restaurant owners will want to look for wax-coated paper packaging and other chemicals that may make paper packaging non-recyclable. This includes looking out for petroleum-based lamination and other chemicals that will not mix in a compost or recycling programme. Recycling these items is key, but buying biodegradable takeout containers is the most effective way to lessen the impact of disposable paper packaging. 

How to dispose of foam takeaway packaging

One of the most common examples of foam takeout packaging is styrofoam, which has been incredibly popular within the food industry for years. 

However, styrofoam is made of a compound that is called polystyrene. While polystyrene is considered safe for food use when in a solid state, heating can cause chemicals to leach from the foam and into the food. This chemical has been linked to health concerns and can be detrimental to the environment at large. 

It’s estimated that less than 1% of styrofoam food packaging is recycled in the U.S. due to how challenging it is to do so properly. The best way to minimise the environmental impact of this form of takeaway packaging is to use as little of it as possible.

Many progressive food establishments have traded foam takeaway packaging for safer, plant-based alternatives, such as bagasse paper and mycelium – an innovative packaging material that boasts the same characteristics as polystyrene.

Disposing of hard & soft plastic takeaway containers

Hard plastic takeaway packaging refers to anything from clamshell containers with a clear lid and solid black base, to a sturdy quart container with a lid that can hold liquids. 

These forms of takeaway packaging can be recycled, provided they are clean and free of food debris. Additionally, items such as these can also be reused by customers. Customers should be informed of this, as well as the best way to recycle these containers to minimise their impact on the environment. 

Soft plastics, such as grocery bags, are often used to house many containers and can be an easy and efficient way to carry several items at once. The drawback to these is that they are not recyclable in conventional facilities. Consumers may be able to take them to grocery stores or certain drop-off points, but they are not meant to be placed into recycling bins. 

Paper carrier bags are an eco-friendly alternative that aligns with the values of many modern consumers. For instance, businesses can choose to use recycled materials, promoting their commitment to sustainability and a circular economy. By investing in high-quality, customised paper bags that are recyclable or compostable, business owners can elevate the customer’s shopping experience while simultaneously promoting the business.

Are plant-based takeaway containers easier to dispose of? 

The market for plant-based packaging is fast-growing thanks to growing consumer demand for sustainable packaging materials, stricter government regulations on plastic packaging, and various technological innovations. 

Essentially, plant-based takeaway packaging is created using renewable materials derived from plants. This makes it both biodegradable and compostable. 

When it comes to disposing of plant-based packaging, there are a few things to consider. For example, items that are minimally dirty can be placed in a compost bin. However, items that are soiled with grease or food debris should be taken to an industrial compostable facility. 

However, even if these items do end up in a landfill, they will break down in a few months rather than many years like traditional hard plastics. 

How consumers dispose of your takeout packaging matters, as single-use food items are one of the major leading causes of consumer-based pollution for the environment. Understanding how takeout packaging will break down and how it should be disposed of is key to leaving a positive impact on the environment. 

Your knowledge will also inform your customers, making for a more educated clientele that is proud of buying food from a business that cares about environmental health.