With the need to support our local restaurants through takeout and delivery purchases comes a tidal wave of takeout containers. From one-ounce sauce cups to heavy-duty clamshells and utensils, a single order can leave the waste-conscious consumer feeling overwhelmed. 

We asked Jessica Bombar at the Solana Center for Environmental Innovation, a local nonprofit focused on zero waste living, to give us some guidance on the topic. 

LuckyBolt’s packs chicken macro bowls with ingredients from four local farms in compostable containers for Frontline Foods to feed VA healthcare workers. Courtesy of LuckyBolt.

1. Recycle

Takeout recycling is tricky. There are usually mixed materials involved: paper with plastic liners, utensils that are too small to recycle, compostables, etc. Bombar says, “Noting the importance of learning the difference between materials and proper sorting is important because adding nonrecyclables into the curbside bin can have negative effects at the facility.” 

The key might be to look for businesses that are using recyclable aluminum, paper without liners, plastic (polypropylene PP #5 and PET #1), or compostable takeout packaging.  

2. Reduce/Refuse

Whether you’re bringing food home or having it safely delivered, Bombar suggests taking the time to specify no utensils in your takeout bag—and you might be able to skip the bag altogether. “Not only are you preventing the use of single-use plastics, but you are also helping promote a by-request thought process that sets a new standard because these options only exist if enough people ask for it.” 

An added tip for when dining out is feasible, keep a reusable container in your car (jar, Tupperware, etc.) to take leftovers home. More food businesses are adopting reusable programs like The Plot's new takeout container exchange with reVessel, and In Good Company's gourmet meal kits. Bombar adds "M'Porte also has a takeout exchange program similar to reVessel and Surfrider SD just launched their ocean-friendly to-go program."

3. Empty, Dry, and Loose

As a reminder, items for recycling need to be emptied of their contents. Give them a quick rinse, dry, and toss them straight in the recycling bin loose, not in a plastic bag. Items with heavy food residue are not recyclable, so take care to remove as much debris as possible. 

“These are important standards not only for general recycling and takeout. For example, small sauce containers are recyclable, but most people send them to the landfill instead of emptying and recycling,” Bombar says.

4. Compost Leftovers

Hand in hand with recyclable packaging comes the recycling of unwanted food. Bombar says, “Solana Center offers Food Cycle, a community compost program for residents and businesses to help divert unwanted leftovers or scraps.” Plus, there are resources to help residents start composting right at home. 

5. Reuse

Think beyond single-use and wash and stash takeout containers for sprouting trays or seed starters, future food sharing or donations (so you don’t lose food storage containers to family or friends), or try finding purpose for these items in creative family projects, like making paint palettes and storing beads, puzzle pieces, and crayons. Do you have more ideas? Tag us on social media or send your suggestions to info@ediblesandiego.com.

As a parting thought on recycling in general, Bombar stresses the importance of diverting electronic products: “When sent to the landfill, e-waste such as batteries, lightbulbs, and electronics can eventually leach out into groundwater and negatively impact our waterways. Solana Center offers curbside e-waste donation at our site.” 

Find more facts and tips on recycling at solanacenter.org/recycling.

This article recognized for excellence in journalism by the San Diego Press Club
About the Contributor
Maria Hesse
Edible San Diego's executive editor is a personal chef and lifestyle designer, podcaster on Modern Casserole, amateur pug photographer, grant writer for Media Arts Center San Diego, and co-author of The Intentionalist Cooks. Find her on Instagram @mariafromediblesd.