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Easy Being GREEN: Simple Solutions to Sustainable Packaging

To-go packaging demands skyrocketed when the surge in takeout and delivery began in 2020.

At a time when supplies could barely keep up with demand, the first reaction could have easily been to forgo sustainability.

Environmental concerns took a back seat as single-use plastic containers were the only packaging supplies widely available. As the virus spread, recycling practices also took a dive, resulting in what some environmentalists called a “plastic tsunami.”

But packaging manufacturers stepped up to the challenge, creating new designs, sturdy materials, and eco-conscious innovations, helping the restaurant industry ride the wave into the land of the new normal.

Verterra, a leader in sustainable packaging, introduced to-go containers made from balsa sourced from tree stumps. Takeout boxes with compostable, leak-proof cardboard liners are also being developed. One example is the Eco Chill Box, which uses a plastic-free, recyclable cardboard insulator to maintain food quality and freshness during delivery.

With the demand for to-go meals still hitting record numbers, the production volume of eco-friendly, compostable packaging continues to rise as well. And it appears that these new forms of sustainable packaging have become the rule rather than the exception.

Grab-and-go packaging encourages customers to make quick decisions, so they spend less time inside stores, cafes, and dining venues. Clear labeling of containers and boxes, easy-to-read fonts, and bold colors grab attention quickly and accelerate decision-making.

Protective packaging remains a concern. The recent health crisis forever raised consumers’ consciousness about the sanitation and safety of takeout containers and even cardboard cartons. Tamper-proof seals, airtight covers and lids, and other visible protective measures are essential to maintain consumer confidence. Studies have shown that porous surfaces, such as cardboard and wood fibers, are less hospitable to germs than non-porous surfaces, such as plastic.

The transition to reusable containers is also becoming more widespread. Zuni Cafe in San Francisco recently transitioned to stainless steel boxes and bowls fitted with silicone lids for all its off-premise orders.

Several college dining programs have started taking the reusable route, too, including SUNY New Paltz, the University of Vermont, and the University of Northern Iowa. The colleges position return areas around campus, but the compliance rate varies from school to school. Some have found a way around this by linking the return to students’ meal cards; the diners have to prove they returned the container in order to receive a clean one the next time they come into the dining hall.

Reusable packaging hits two sweet spots: the need for more sustainable solutions and sanitation.

It’s the smart move to make, considering diners seem to be willing to pay more for a meal from a restaurant they perceive as "green.” Now more than ever, younger consumers care about what the brands they interact with stand for. Making small changes to make your business more environmentally friendly can benefit more than just the planet. It can help you build a following of loyal customers who are fans of both your food and your sustainability practices.

Green food delivery containers are more than just the packaging for your food – they’re an important part of the customer’s experience with your business.

Luckily, it’s getting easier to be “green” as sustainable packaging is becoming more readily available. Choosing the right eco-friendly food delivery containers for your restaurant is becoming increasingly critical.

5 Key Factors to Consider when Choosing Food Packaging

1. Invest in eco-friendly packaging

Many state and local governments have already passed legislation limiting the use of styrofoam packaging, which doesn’t naturally degrade and is therefore filling the world’s landfills. Accordingly, a variety of more eco-friendly food containers are available for just about every dish you can think of, designed to retain heat, maintain durability, and deliver fresh food to customers without sacrificing the quality of the experience.

2. Take precautions against contamination

When choosing to package, safety continues to remain at the top of consumers’ minds. Closing your bag with a quality seal is one way of instilling trust in customers because it shows them that proper precautions were taken as their meal was prepared.

3. Enhance the guest takeout experience

Being eco-friendly does not equate to low quality. It’s possible to select sustainable food containers that are not just healthier for the environment but are of high enough quality to keep your food fresh during delivery.

4. Showcase your brand with custom food delivery containers

You spend hours deciding how your dishes are presented in the restaurant — don’t skimp on how you showcase your best delivery dishes. Your packaging is critical to the guest experience. Consider customizing bags and boxes with your unique logo or a brand slogan to elevate the delivery order or perhaps to take the place of flyers or paper menus that will likely end up in the recycling bin.

5. Vary the shapes and sizes of your to-go containers

There are different shapes, styles, and functions of to-go food containers for nearly every kind of food, so choose accordingly.

Top To-Go Packaging Options

Clamshells: These eco-friendly food containers are compostable commercially and at your customers’ homes. Studies have shown that clamshells perform the best on an overall score that ranks heat retention, taste, and texture for burger delivery.

Salad bowls: Made from bagasse, a sugarcane byproduct, these compostable salad bowls have wide edges perfect for filling with salad fixings or grain bowls. They’re sturdy and can be easily stacked in bags.

Soup containers: Avoid potentially disastrous spills with these lined recyclable soup containers designed to keep hot soups hot and cold soups cold.

Folding boxes: Perfect for sandwiches, wraps, and other dry goods, these folding boxes made out of Kraft paper are perfectly compact and convenient for stacking. They’re available in four sizes and are easily recyclable.

Seal top boxes: A go-to for pasta, entrées, and other saucy foods, these boxes are made from recycled plastic or polypropylene and can be recycled or reused. The secure lids are ideal for preventing spills and keeping food at the perfect temperature during transport.

Eco-friendly Food Container Materials, Explained

Compostable: Compostable materials break down quickly when disposed of properly, either in a commercial or home compost, naturally becoming nutrient-rich materials that can be used in soil to encourage plant growth. Containers made with sugarcane/bagasse, bamboo, and some bioplastics are typically compostable.

Biodegradable: Products like bioplastics and other materials made from plants (i.e., not fossil fuels) are biodegradable, meaning they will naturally disintegrate over time by biological means (bacteria and fungi).

However, the rates of decomposition vary based on the material, and some governments are beginning to set regulations for using the label based on how much and how quickly the material breaks down. Remember to research local policies to determine the best biodegradable packaging options for your area.

Recycled: Packaging made with some plastics is recycled or made with materials that have existed previously and are often recyclable themselves — cutting back on the need to create new materials. Kraft paper products are made with virgin fibers but are renewable, recyclable, and easily customizable.

Reusable: Products that are able to be used again after their initial use, like sturdy plastic containers, reusable coffee cups, or reusable salad bowls, are great ways to cut back on your environmental footprint. If you frequently have people ordering coffee-to-go, consider offering a discount for guests that bring their own container.


By Eileen Strauss


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