Takeout Food Packaging Goes Green

You can buy a reusable mug or bring your own to Lucky’s Coffee Garage, or participate in their Huskee Swap program!

It’s hard to miss the attention being given these days to the overwhelming problem of single use and disposable plastic waste and pollution. More and more, research is demonstrating not only the harmful effects of the processes and chemicals used in giving plastic its useful properties, but also the incredible volume of plastic waste accumulating around the world.

Consumers often take for granted what goes into making plastic – it can be stretchy or crinkly, clear or colorful, rigid or flexible –  and chemistry makes this possible. Plastic keeps contents like takeout food hot and vitally important medicines cold, among its many other uses. Among the challenges with single use plastic is the fact that it never breaks down, but remains viable for hundreds of years, simply degrading into smaller pieces that eventually end up in oceans and waterways, marine life, and us.

Fortunately, researchers are also helping to discover more economical, environmentally friendly, and chemical-free alternatives to single use plastic, paving the way for conscientious business owners and consumers who want to reduce single use plastic in the waste stream. Businesses and consumers are also learning that it makes better economic sense to transition from single use plastic to reusable alternatives like paper, glass, and stainless steel containers.

Lalo’s taqueria take-out container

Lalo’s taqueria take-out container

Several international organizations are tackling the single use plastic problem on a global level, and nationally as well. Specific to food service businesses, Plastic Free Restaurants, a national organization that subsidizes reusable dinnerware for restaurants, and its partner, the Rethink Disposable campaign, have shown that restaurants can save thousands of dollars annually by transitioning to reusables, with payback beginning in just under six months. One case study in California showed that a $439 investment netted more than $30,000 in cost savings.

In Dover and Portsmouth, four popular restaurants are piloting reusable takeout through a program called ‘Reusable Seacoast’. The campaign has partnered with the Surfrider Foundation, Ocean Friendly Restaurants, and Foodware, the program’s app, to provide reusable stainless steel take out containers to customers.

Of the dozens of restaurants in Lebanon, many are making the choice to reduce or eliminate single use plastic in their takeout and grocery operations. The popular Lalo’s Taqueria and SNAX both serve takeout orders in cardboard containers. Lucky’s Coffee Garage began by offering a discount to customers bringing their own coffee mugs, and has now transitioned to charging for single use cups, hoping to incentivize customers to bring their own beverage containers. As consumers, we can opt to ‘Skip the Stuff’ at restaurants by requesting that single use plastic foodware be left out of our takeout order, and bring our own take out containers when we have a sit down dinner at a local restaurant.

At the Co-op Food Stores, initiatives are afoot to provide customers with sustainable packaging options while shopping. This will include compostable and reusable bags for produce and bulk, and compostable or recyclable containers for prepared foods. The stores also carry some reusable food storage products, in which a one-time investment leads to a lifetime of cost savings by reducing the repeated purchase of single use plastic.

In New Hampshire, there are no effective local or state policies that have banned single use plastic bags, but a bag ban does exist in nearby Vermont, and consumers have adapted well so far.

Working together, consumers, governments, non-profit groups, and businesses can have a collective impact on reducing single use plastic use and waste to create a healthier environment now and for future generations.