Bring your own containers, bottles or cups
A study comparing the environmental impacts of the three most widely used types of takeaway containers has found single-use polypropylene containers to have the highest global warming potential. Aluminium has the highest impact on the depletion of the ozone layer and human toxicity.
When comparing aluminium, polypropylene (plastic containers) and extruded polystyrene (EPS), a polystyrene container has the overall lowest impact due to its lower electricity consumption when produced.
The carbon footprint is 50% lower than aluminium containers and even three times lower than other plastic alternatives.
Unfortunately, in Australia, only 29.7% of expanded polystyrene is recycled. Often it ends up in landfill, where it takes hundreds of years to break down. If recycled in Australia, the collection costs are often greater than landfill costs.
Paper packaging is a popular alternative to plastic and looks environmentally friendly. However, a study has found that it takes four times more energy to manufacture a paper shopping bag than a plastic bag. 71% more water is needed to produce a paper bag, and forests are cut down.
Paper is thicker than plastic and requires more energy for transportation. Unfortunately, and unknown to many, it requires more energy to recycle paper than plastic. Paper can be recycled up to eight times. If the paper is thrown into landfill it creates methane while it breaks down. It doesn’t necessarily break down quicker in landfills because of lack of water, light and air. However, paper is recycled at a higher rate. In Australia, around 60% of paper is recovered and recycled. While only 12% of plastics are recycled. Unfortunately, there is no perfect solution for packaging, the best we can do is reuse what we already have.
There has never been more choice when it comes to takeaway food. However, buying takeaway food contributes significantly to global waste and negatively impacts our environment. Takeaway food gets served in containers with low recyclability and mostly ends up in a landfill.
How can we reduce the use of single-use takeaway packaging? Using a reusable container is always the best option. Eating out? Bring your own container and ask for your food to be served in it. Some establishments might even offer a reusable container as part of their reuse system, this is also often the case with coffee cups.
RETURNR is an environmental initiative that aims to replace single use takeaway packaging with equivalent reusable solutions. To see participating cafés and restaurants, visit the RETURNR website.
Deliveroo is one of their partners. Some venues have created their own reusable programs. Others will accept it if you bring your own container. Check a list of cafes and restaurants here. Do you know of any businesses in Australia that accept reusable containers for takeaway food or produce? You can add a business to Trashless Takeaway.
(Warning, some venues may not be accepting containers due to COVID19).
Globally more than 500 billion disposable cups are going to landfill every year, with the USA being responsible for 37 percent of all food service disposables globally in 2010.
Coffee shop giant Starbucks sells around 4 billion coffees in disposable cups per year.
Scientists have studied single-use coffee cups for their life cycle and greenhouse gas and energy impacts. Reusable cups have a far lower impact than disposable cups in many situations.
Bring your mug or reusable cup next time you go out for coffee. Many cafes have reusable options and offer discounts for customers who bring their cups. Visit the Responsible Cafes for more information and to find participating coffee stores: https://responsiblecafes.org/
How to recycle single use cups?
The best way to reduce disposable cup waste is to choose a reusable cup. Did you know approximately one billion disposable coffee cups in Australia end up in landfill every year.
Once in landfill, the cardboard fibre of the cup releases methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide.
If you do use a disposable cup, check the cup to see if it’s compostable or recyclable.
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Several studies that compared impacts of single-use versus reusable plates and bowls found that reusables had a lower carbon footprint compared to single-use. Most plastic is not biodegradable and will stay in the environment for hundreds of years.
Granted, if you order take-away you might not have the choice in which container your meal is getting delivered. But sometimes it is enough to just ask and the restaurant will transfer the food from a plate to your own container. Also, pay attention to the container so you can recycle it correctly. Many restaurants are using biodegradable disposals to reduce waste.
How to recycle
A triangle with a number (1 to 7) inside stamped on a plastic plate or bowl is the plastic identification code. This is not the symbol that it can be recycled.
Please check the different types of plastics here
Some things might have the new Australasian Recycling Label:
If your product has the Australasian recycle label, you will know which parts belong in the recycle bin, the rubbish bin or which items can be recycled if you follow the instructions.
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Glass Mason Jars
Glass is an eco-friendly alternative to plastic. Mason jars are a great way to preserve foods for up to a year and are also excellent alternatives to plastic bags or disposable containers for storing leftovers.
Plastic containers are very convenient, they are not heavy, easy to transport and won’t necessarily break if dropped. But plastic is causing a major environmental issue. In Australia only 14% of plastic is recovered for recycling or energy recovery. A shocking amount of this plastic either can’t be recycled or just isn’t recycled.
However, plastic containers also create health risks when heated. Many plastics contain BPA (bisphenol-A) and phthalates. These substances are added to shape and stabilize plastics. Unfortunately they are “endocrine disruptors”, which cause chronic health risks.
Now that you know that plastic is not just a big issue for our environment, but also can create health risks, it’s time to let go and choose more sustainable alternatives.
Glass and Silicone food containers
Glass and Silicone food containers are more sustainable and do not create any health risks.
Reusable Food Storage Bags
Plastic ziploc bags are a popular storage method for leftovers however are not recyclable and hardly reusable.
There’s many environmentally friendly, reusable alternatives to single use plastic bags, including silicone food bags. You’ll never have to buy another sandwich bag again.
Gallego Schmid, Alejandro & F. Mendoza, Joan Manuel & Azapagic, Adisa. (2018). Environmental impacts of takeaway food containers. Journal of Cleaner Production. 211. 417-427. 10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.11.220.
APCO. (2019). Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) 2018 Working Group Key Findings. Retrieved from http://documents.packagingcovenant.org.au/public-documents/
One Planet Consulting, 2018. The recovery of expanded polystyrene in Australia: current situation and future opportunities. Extract from report to ACT government available for public use, p.15