Got takeout containers? Here’s how to minimize their environmental impact

By Cathy Murphy, Environmental Justice Ministry Team

Takeout containers

Many of us are accumulating a pandemic-fueled pile of takeout containers, just as this Washington Post article describes.

I used to carry reusable containers in my car to take home my restaurant leftovers. However, that practice isn’t helpful when restaurants are prepackaging takeout and not wanting to touch containers we provide.

This pandemic is creating a new ecological disaster with the increase in items such as disposable masks, gloves, gowns, as well as plastic and Styrofoam takeout containers and prepackaged plastic cutlery. So, what can we do?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Patronize restaurants that use compostable or recyclable disposables.
  • Encourage your regular restaurants to consider alternatives to plastic and especially Styrofoam, or at least recyclable plastic.
  • Try composting. Add the greasy biscuit paper wraps, taco and burger bags, used paper drink cups, soiled sandwich and pizza boxes, etc., to your food scraps. Here is a list of what materials are compostable. If you’re not already composting, here are a few ways you can start:
    • UUFR has a contract with CompostNow, and members are welcome to drop off their compost at no charge in the bin in the lower parking lot.
    • There are 4 Wake County Convenience Centers that have Compost Now bins: Apex, Yates Mill Pond in Raleigh, Deponie Drive in Raleigh, and Wake Forest. Check here for addresses and hours. They’re even open on weekends.
    • You can sign up for weekly pickups from CompostNow. For $29-35/month based on family size, they’ll pick up a 4-gallon bucket of your food scraps, including cooked meat, dairy, food-soiled pizza boxes, paper, paperboard and compostable containers.
    • And one helpful composting tip: I’ve found that putting a double layer of paper towels in the bottom of my clean bucket makes it much easier to dump my bucket and clean it out. And the paper towels go right in the compost.
  • If you have reusable containers, consider giving them to Love Wins in the Friday Action Parking Lot. They are providing all of their meals as takeouts – over 300 meals a day. That takes lots of containers. Some of us have purchased compostable divided takeout plates, but as coordinator Linda Liles says, “There is never enough!” See the picture for the kinds of things I’ve been saving and donating: clamshell containers, yogurt and deli containers, even intact Styrofoam if they can be thoroughly washed by hand. Yogurt, deli and some other plastic containers can be cleaned in the dishwasher. They also need prepackaged individual cutlery sets. I save extra condiment packs for them, too.
  • Pick up your takeout wearing your washable/reusable mask. UUFR’s mask making effort has now provided over 1600 handmade masks to mostly people of color. A number of these have replaced disposable masks.

Another way to help combat climate change and reduce waste is to join UUFR’s Environmental Justice Ministry Team. To get involved with the team’s work, contact Russell Outcalt, [email protected] or (919) 412-0414.