• Grace Mullins

Takeaway food and waste. How eco-conscious is your takeaway food packaging?

Blog 1 of the 'takeaway food packaging' series.

Let’s talk about takeaway food packaging.

Have you noticed that more takeaway packaging has been appearing in your home or workplace since the COVID-19 lockdown? My disposable coffee cup consumption has skyrocketed since I haven’t been able to buy coffee in my reusable Keep Cup. I also live with three other people and have seen a fair amount of takeaway food packaging in our home landfill and recycling bins in the past few weeks.

This has led me to two theories about takeaway packaging consumption, eco-packaging choices and the impact of these on our waste and recycling systems.

Theory 1: Takeaway packaging consumption has risen and will continue to rise due to COVID-19

Following the transition from dine-in to take-away I suspect that we are eating more takeaway food and since we can’t us our BYO containers and cups, there will be an increase in consumption of the packaging that makes the whole takeaway food system work. Compounding this, in an article on the potential reopening of restaurants Restaurant and Catering Australia proposed that ‘safe eateries’ would use disposable cutlery. This will be further increasing the amount of single use cutlery consumed.

Theory 2: More businesses are choosing ‘eco-friendly’ takeaway packaging

Over the past few years, I’ve seen more and more businesses opting for the ‘environmentally friendly’ options. I’ve seen mainstream chains getting on the eco-packaging train – which is a great step in a positive direction. In regional Queensland, six months or so ago, I found myself holding my favourite takeaway iced late in a compostable plastic cup. It demonstrated a market to be more environmentally friendly across the regions in Australia and not just in cities as we often expect.

Conclusion: More eco-packaging in our waste and recycling systems than we have ever seen before.

Let’s assume that my theories are correct. What they point to is that the amount of eco-packaging and particularly bio-plastics in our waste and recycling systems is at unprecedented levels and is increasing. Bio-plastics are relatively new materials so the potential impacts of this rise in their prevalence sparked my curiosity.

At Resource Hub we like to look at waste processes and systems holistically, to see the relationships between the elements of a system and how these relationships impact outcomes. This allows us to identify where the weak or missing links might be in a process and to identify systems and processes that will build resilience where there is risk.

I’ve been seeking to apply this approach to the world of takeaway ‘eco-packaging’ with a focus on bio-plastics. However, it seems that I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole and am discovering more questions than answers. Between getting to the bottom of what a bio-plastic is and how it’s used and figuring out which existing waste stream it belongs best in, there is a lot to unpack. There are some interesting missing links and some great opportunities though! So, I’m changing my approach.

Join me on a blog mini-series exploration of takeaway eco-packaging and bio-plastics. Over the next few blogs I will answer the crucial question for the waste conscious takeaway lover:

 “Which bin does this takeaway container go in?”

We will explore and discuss: 

  • Bio-plastics use in takeaway food packaging in Australia

  • How to tell if a container is made from bio-plastic or normal plastic

  • When the recycling symbol doesn’t mean, “Place in your yellow recycling bin.”

  • Bio-plastics in Australia’s 2025 National Packaging Targets

  • Existing collection, disposal and recycling options for compostable packaging

  • The opportunity for system and process improvement

While, there is still a lot to discover, one thing is clear - the desired outcome is that we get to fully and deliciously indulge in our takeaway comforts without the waste, landfill and environmental guilt. 

I think it might be possible!