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Hello guys,
So, I ordered food yesterday (great set of vegetarian sushi) and once again was absolutely astonished by the amount of packaging that I got with the order. I mean, at least four different packs of some sort of plastic, all of them going straight to the bin. It's something I noticed more and more recently and it I am seriously puzzled by this. Is there no alternative packaging (reusable, bio-degradable)? As as pure consumer (no familiarity with restaurant operations) my view is definitely very constraint, so I was wondering if someone can share with me why single-use plastics are so dominant? is it just the price? or are there other factors that a consumer just would not think of? Appreciate your thoughts on that :)
 

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Great question, and with so many places takeout-only during the pandemic I cry about the massive amount of to-go packaging trash generated. (I also hate how places automatically give you plastic utensils. They shouldn't, unless the customer asks.)

I think it's a game of tradeoffs. In theory plastic can be reused by the consumer, and is usually recyclable, except it's become more unlikely lately as China is refusing the garbage we used to ship to them to recycle.

Paper food packaging is single-use and can't be recycled if there's any food residue on it. However paper eventually degrades, when conditions are right, and they aren't right in a landfill which is where it ends up.

Eco-plastics and "compostable" packaging does more harm than good since most people lack access to high-heat industrial compost facilities, which are the only ones capable of breaking them down. We mean well, and put those things in the recycling, but they gum up the works and we're better off throwing it in the trash.

Foil may or may not be recyclable depending on your area's services. I live in a big city and our municipal recycling program doesn't accept foil.

Also the choice of container probably depends on the type of food being packed up, for example something in liquid like a sauce or soup wouldn't do well in paper, but something likely to get soggy (such as french fries) wouldn't do well in plastic.

Bringing your own to-go container to the restaurant and asking them to use it is a nice idea, but a hassle, and impossible for delivery. But, maybe someday that will become as normal as bringing our own bags to the grocery store.

Another option is a deposit for a more substantial reusable package/container. There are some restaurants that sell whole pies, and they charge an extra dollar or whatever for the pie tin. When you brought back the tin, you'd get your dollar back. I don't know how most people would feel about paying an extra charge for a container deposit but I'd definitely be happy to return empty containers to the restaurant, and it would probably bring them repeat business because if I'm going to return their containers, I might as well pick up dinner too.

And that's the best system for any packaging, closed-loop, where you return it to the place you bought it to be reused, recycled/upcycled, or responsibly trashed. The companies that generate all this waste should be the ones responsible for managing it, not the consumer. Alas there are very few examples of that in corporate America.

I love this topic, thanks so much for posting!
 
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