Is there such thing as a zero-waste takeout? Takeout and deliveries have always been a popular means of food consumption in our fast and never-resting world. However, in the last year or so, when our life’s tempo slowed down significantly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, just the opposite happened to takeout options. According to ReportLinker, this market got a fresh impetus and is expected to reach 192 billion US dollars in 2025 at a compound annual growth rate of 11 %.
Unfortunately, the total incomes are not the only thing that increased so dramatically in the past year - so did the use of plastic waste associated with these services. Packaging made up the largest category of municipal waste in the US even before the pandemic; around 150 million metric tons per year, according to 2017 US Environmental Protection Agency data. It feels like there is not much we can do about it on a personal level besides not getting takeout at all, but there actually is! Let’s have a look at a zero-waste takeout concept and how you can contribute to its spread.
How can individuals contribute to zero-waste takeout?
Next time you get takeout, try paying attention to how much garbage you’re getting with it. Yes, some of it is recyclable and some of it is even compostable; but most of it doesn’t check any of the boxes. What to do with it? Is zero-waste takeout even possible?
Recycling is great, but it is far from perfect. While it is better to recycle some of the stuff we use, rather than make new ones from raw material repeatedly, it is still much more sustainable not to use them in the first place. Therefore, refuse it! This is the magical word.
Ask yourself, do you really need single-use plastic utensils and napkins? If you are taking your food straight home or to the office, where you can use reusable forks and knives, you can politely decline the ones the cashier is handing out. You can do the same with a plastic bag they normally put your order in, especially if you are going to eat it on the go.
What can you do if you own food business?
As you can see, there is a lot you can do to contribute towards zero-waste takeout as a customer, but not nearly as much as you can do if you own food business. Sure, you want to stay competitive and offer your clients complimentary napkins, single-use plasticware and a plastic bag they can store their order in; but did you ever ask yourself if they really want and need all that stuff?
Why not ask your customer if they need plasticware before simply handing it out to them? According to Seamless, a popular US delivery app, they reduced the use of napkins in plastic by over a million sets every year, just by introducing the checkbox which allows clients to refuse them. As you can see, this is a double win for your cash register and the environment.
Another thing you can do to participate in a zero-waste takeout movement is to stop handing out little bags of ketchup, mustard or mayo. Most people don’t use all of them and they are just impossible to recycle. Again, ask your customers which ones they want and how many.
Food business and their customers can make reusing possible
Refusing is always better than recycling, but if that is not possible, try reusing. This is the one aspect of zero-waste takeout that both sides should actively participate in to make it work. However, it is up to the food business owner to take the initiative and make it easier for their clients to transition.
For example, there are new business models out there that allow major shifts from single-use packaging to reusable containers, particularly in cafeterias located in college campuses or even hospitals. A regular customer can check out a reusable container with their card and later return it free of charge. Of course, this means that the initial investment for the business owner is considerably higher, but it definitely pays off in the long run. There are even providers of reusable containers in some cities in the US that offer such options to smaller local food businesses.
As you can see, there is a lot we can all do to reduce plastic waste in our communities. All you need is a passion for change and some creativity. There is nothing impossible about the concept of a zero-waste takeout and together, we can make it happen.