Waste Management: Don’t let takeout trash take over

Takeout food. It’s how we treat ourselves and support local businesses in our community at the same time. There’s nothing like slurping some steaming hot ramen on a cold evening or grabbing a burrito after a long day. 

The problem is those tasty treats come in a variety of packages – plastic boxes, paper wraps, bags, cups – you name it! When you’re ready to toss it, how do you know where it goes? Recycle, compost or trash? Here are a few tips to keep those takeout containers from taking over. 

First, reduce, reduce, reduce whenever you can. Do you actually need utensils and napkins? Do you need a plastic bag? If not, politely decline these extra items. If you do get a plastic bag, reuse it to collect trash in your bathroom or dog waste when out walking with your furry friend. Plastic bags should never go in your curbside recycling cart. To recycle them, check www.plasticfilmrecycling.org/ for a drop off location near you. 

Another way to reduce your waste is to finish your meal! Wasted food is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts. If you have leftovers, save them in your fridge with a date label so you remember to eat them before they go bad.

Next, sort your containers. Recycling and composting programs rely on local markets and processors, so different cities and counties are able to accept different materials. Find out what types of containers are accepted in your area at wmnorthwest.com. 

In most areas, plastic takeout containers need to go in the garbage. (They aren’t on the “acceptable recyclables” list because market demand is not reliable for most flexible plastics.) Also, any styrofoam containers should always go in the garbage. 

What about those containers that look like plastic, but the labels say “biodegradable?” Beware! Many products have misleading labeling. Terms like “biodegradable” or “sustainable” do not necessarily mean the material will break down at the local composting facility. It’s best to check your local guide to be sure, and when in doubt, throw it out! If we accidentally put plastic in the compost, it contaminates the other organic materials.

Food-soiled paper containers without a plastic liner can go in the compost cart (also known as yard waste in some areas) – not the recycling cart. The grease and moisture from food break down the paper fibers making it unrecyclable. That means you should compost your food-soiled napkins, paper towels, and greasy pizza boxes. All food waste should also go in the compost cart including bones, pizza crusts, eggshells, fruit peels, cheese sauce, and avocado pits.

If you don’t already subscribe to compost service at the curb, you can sign up at wm.com. The composting process turns your food scraps into a nutritious soil amendment that reduces greenhouse gas emissions, prevents erosion and naturally fertilizes the soil. 

Next time you grab a bite at your local pizza joint or Thai restaurant, remember to keep takeout trash in check and sort those containers correctly! Your stomach, your community, and your planet will thank you.

Hannah Scholes is Waste Management’s recycling education and outreach manager. Learn more about waste reduction at wmnorthwest.com.

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