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Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Styrofoam™ Takeout Containers

Almost every kind of foodservice you can imagine provides some form of to-go service built into their business model. Out of those businesses, most of them offer this service via disposable takeout food containers often made of Styrofoam™ (less formally known as polystyrene). It’s convenient for operators and diners alike, but it’s not necessarily the greenest option, to say the least.

You may be ready to switch to a more Earth-friendly material because it’s a personal passion, you want to position your brand as eco-friendly, or you’re complying with a local government initiative. Whatever your reason, we’re going to explore a few eco-friendly food takeout options that you may want to consider using in place of Styrofoam™ for your foodservice operation. We’ll also take a look at some common processes for eco-friendly waste disposal of these items.


Biodegradable/Compostable Options for Disposable Food Takeout Containers

One of the greenest, most sustainable options for taking your food to go is using biodegradable or compostable food takeout containers. Luckily, there are a several options available on the market. Let’s review some that caught our eye.

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Pictured: wooden eco-friendly disposable to-go container in medium 

Wooden Takeout Food Containers

Made from leftover wood and wrapped in rice paper, biodegradable and compostable food containers like these are a popular option for several reasons. They stack flat, pop open quickly, and the lid is even attached, saving you storage space and time building boxes.

Their natural look makes these wooden takeout food containers perfect for gourmet bakery items, craft foods, high-end parting gifts for resort guests, and other luxe offerings. If your brand is exclusive, you need the packaging to support your positioning, and that's something these containers do very well. 

Sugarcane Takeout Food Containers

Sugarcane is another popular eco-friendly, compostable material that’s used in takeout food containers. This is because it's a rapidly renewing resource, which is usually sustainably harvested. Eco-Products is one company that has a few sugarcane to-go boxes to choose from.

Miscanthus Takeout Food Containers

Perhaps not as widely familiar as sugarcane or wooden takeout food containers, this is another excellent green to-go container. Made from the miscanthus plant, these containers offered by Good Start Packaging are compostable and come in a few different designs. They’re also made in America, and responsibly farmed and produced. 

These containers generally have similar qualities:

  • Biodegradable or compostable
  • Lightweight and durable
  • Can withstand heat, oils, and liquids
  • Great design options
  • Clean ingredients
  • Low-energy manufacturing process

These are all excellent eco-friendly disposable options for eateries that offer takeout food and don’t have dishwashers, like food trucks and concession stands. Even restaurants and cafes with dishwasher are a good fit. If an operation offers to-go food, they can position their brand as eco-friendly by using these, or similar kinds of biodegradable or compostable containers. 

Pros

  • Environmentally friendly
  • Can use for all service instead of having separate dinnerware for dine-in and to-go if it fits your service style
  • Lightweight – easy to move around
  • Easy cleanup
  • Positive brand position
  • Guests may be inclined to pay extra for the green perk
  • Plenty of designs from utilitarian to modern

Cons

  • Many biodegradable/compostable plateware options must be processed at an industrial facility
    • It may be difficult for a foodservice operation to manage, depending on facility access
  • Occasionally, biodegradable options may have wax, plastic, or lacquer coatings to help them withstand higher temperatures
    • Most eco-friendly producers do not use these chemical coatings because they can contaminate soil
    • If you want to avoid this, simply check for coatings when making a purchase

 

Reusable Food Takeout Containers

Eco-Takeouts® reusable to-go containers, available in several different shapes, mimic commonly used to-go boxes. Their look is similar to the disposable version of what you may get served if you ordered a takeaway meal from a fast-casual restaurant, except that Eco-Takeouts® are specifically designed to be reused.

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Pictured: eco-friendly reusable to-go container EC-10-JA 

Made from polypropylene, Eco-Takeouts® can be recycled at the end of their service life.

We’ve seen these be attractive options for foodservice operations working in a closed loop system like colleges, universities, and business and industry. We've even seen food trucks like Go Box incorporate them into their service model. 

Most programs either issue users their first container or have them pay for it. Users fill their containers in the dining hall or cafeteria, and then take them back to their dorm, desk, next class or training session, etc. When they’re ready for their next meal, diners simply exchange their used container for a clean one.

Eco-Takeouts® may not be the best option for foodservice operations who mainly serve guests that aren’t likely to return frequently. Examples of this may be airports or food trucks that move about town often. However, you may have raving fans that would be interested in buying a branded container to show their affiliation and have a reusable container for personal use. It’s something to consider if you think it may be a fit for your guests and/or brand.

Pros

  • Reduce waste created from disposable items that can’t be recycled, biodegraded or composted
  • BPA-free, non toxic
  • Durable, stackable, and leak-resistant
  • Microwave-safe and dishwasher-safe
  • Custom colors and branded logos or designs available
  • Recyclable #5

Cons

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Innovative Reusable Food Takeout Plate Covers 

If you're serving food in a closed loop system like a corporate campus, poolside hotel patio, or any environment where your guests may want to take their food from the tabletop back to their office or room, you may want to consider Evolution™ plate covers. This patent-pending, innovative plate cover uses silicone grips to provide a secure fit on top of compatible plateware. If your guests decide to take their meal elsewhere on your grounds, all they have to do is top their plate with the cover and they're all set.

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Pictured: Evolution™ plate cover on a 10'' plate, plus a soup bowl with an Evolution™ lid

Evolution™ reusable plate covers are recyclable and have a dine-in look with to-go capabilities built in. Essentially, an operator can use one set of plates for both dine-in and to-go meals. All that’s required to switch between the two order modes is the addition of a plate cover. This is an exciting design trait because you may be able to reduce your overall inventory of plateware by using the same dinnerware for dine-in and to-go service.

Evolution™ reusable plate covers fit over several existing plates carried by G.E.T., which gives you several choices for crafting the look that’s best for your high-volume kitchen. If you are considering this option, G.E.T. sells both the dinnerware and lids designed to work together. Contact G.E.T. for additional information on what dinner plates and bowl sizes are available and designed for these unique Evolution™ plate covers and lids.

Additionally, each Evolution™ plate cover has a divot on top where diners can nest a bowl of fruit, soup, or other side dish, or a drink cup. This allows users to carry all of their food in one hand instead of perfecting a precarious balancing act.

Pros

  • Reduce waste created from disposable items that can’t be recycled, biodegraded or composted
  • BPA-free non toxic
  • Durable and stackable
  • Microwave-safe and dishwasher-safe
  • Custom colors and branded logos or designs available
  • Recyclable #5

Cons 

  • Some areas may not have easy access to recycling
  • You may be able to find a mail-in recycling service
  • Not leak-resistant
  • Limited use with specific dinnerware series with G.E.T.
     

We think you’ll agree that there are a multitude of options to use for takeout food in place of Styrofoam™ or polystyrene. These are just a few of the options available to you. With all of the choices at your fingertips, we hope this serves you well as you work toward finding the best fit for your operational and branding needs, and personal goals.

If you’re interested in learning more about the differences in reusable vs disposable dinnerware, we recommend reading “Reusable vs Disposable Dinnerware: Costs & Benefits for a Foodservice Operation.”

 

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Topics: Commercial Tableware Reviews