Stop The Amount Of Waste That Comes With Your Takeout With These 4 Tips

“We really do need to prioritize reduce and reuse over recycling."

Take a minute to think about the last time you ordered takeout or delivery. Do you remember how the was food packaged? Was it placed in a styrofoam container? Wrapped in aluminum foil? What did it come with? Packets of condiments, plastic utensils, napkins, and a plastic straw? Was the whole order placed inside of a stapled paper bag inside of a plastic bag? Did the order come with a printed menu, even though the restaurant has an online menu? 

Many of us don't give a second thought as to how wasteful all this packaging is, but it's time we do. 


Ordering takeout makes things a lot easier, but it comes at a cost to the environment. Luckily, there are a lot of things both restauranteurs and customers can do to reduce and reuse. In a video for Vox, conservation scientist and chief executive officer at Conservation International M. Sanjayan, PhD explains some of the harm our food delivery habits are causing and what we can do about it. 

"These little containers and wrappers may not seem like a big deal, but in the U.S. packaging makes up the largest category of municipal waste," Dr. Sanjayan said. "On top of that, single-use items make up another 10 percent of all our discards. This kind of mindless consumption has a really big impact on climate change. Roughly 29 percent of our nations greenhouse gas emissions come from the way we make, consume, and dispose of stuff [...] It takes a lot of energy and resources to produce single-use items — these things we use only for a few minutes, or even a few seconds, before they become trash."

We can recycle or compost some of the stuff, but a lot of it just ends up in landfills. After all of that paper, plastic, and aluminum is destroyed, new raw materials are extracted to replace it. So, while we should recycle the things we do have, we need to start focusing on reducing the amount of waste we create and reusing the things we already have. 

"We really do need to prioritize reduce and reuse over recycling," Anne Krieghoff, solid waste and recycling program coordinator at the University of California Irvine, said in the video. "Recycling is great to deal with a product once it's already in your hand. But waste minimization is more important."

Below are a few things you can do to reduce the impact of your eating and drinking habits, according to Dr. Sanjayan.

1. Use bulk condiments instead of those that come in small packets.

How many times have you opened your bag of takeout only to find that it's filled with tons of condiments you don't want or need? "They may look innocent, but there's really no way to recycle them," Dr. Sanjayan said. 

Restaurants can make an impact by offering bulk condiments, and only giving out the single-use packets when they're specifically asked for. Chances are most takeout customers already have the condiments they like at home, anyway.

Susan Quinland-Stringer / Shutterstock

2. Stop overpacking things.

Restaurants can make an impact by not offering the second bag. Instead, they can just put the food in the paper bag and only give the extra plastic bag if someone specifically asks for it. 

3. Say "no" to utensils, napkins, and straws you don't need.

Dr. Sanjayan pointed out that delivery services such as Seamless and Grubhub give customers the option to forgo any napkins and plasticware. Again, most people likely don't need these things if they're eating at home. So, check that box when you're using those services. When you're not, simply let the restaurant know they don't need to include them when you place the order. This also means they'll have to spend less money on those things, so it's a win-win. 

Plastic straws are a thing most of us can say goodbye forever to. "While many plastic straws can be recycled, most are not recyclable," according to The Lonely Whale Foundation. "While some straws are made from #2 or #5 plastic, which is recyclable, straws are too lightweight and often don't make it through the recycling sorter. Further, many communities don't allow plastic straws to be recycled no matter the material. Like the plastic bag and soda can rings, straws fall under the category of 'single-use plastics.' " 

For most people, straws are completely unnecessary. Just bring the cup up to your lips. 

Zulashai / Shutterstock

4. Use reusable containers or water bottles.

"Water bottles are one of the easiest ways to cut down on to-go trash," Dr. Sanjayan. "Around the world, people buy one million plastic bottles each minute and most of them will end up in a landfill or the ocean." 

Instead of spending money and harming the environment, bring your own water bottle with you. 

These simple changes are really small for most of us, but collectively, we can make a big difference.

Cover image via Daxiao Productions / Shutterstock 

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