How Restaurants Should Be Using Sustainable Food Containers

As younger, environmentally conscious diners become a majority of the food-industry customer base, many restaurants are making sustainability a top priority. To-go containers are a key focus — disposable packaging is a significant contributor to commercial waste. The right sustainable products can help you protect the environment while maintaining food quality.

Why sustainability matters

Increasing restaurant sustainability is one way to reduce your impact on the environment, especially when it comes to takeout containers. According to the EPA, containers and packaging are responsible for more than 23% of all the trash that goes to landfills in the United States. By switching to compostable, reusable, or recyclable to-go container alternatives, you can minimize your ecological footprint.

Your bottom line will also benefit — after all, customers care about sustainability. Millennials and Gen Z diners, in particular, are likely to pay attention to your company’s environmental practices. In fact, 71% of millennials and 75% of Gen Z consumers consider sustainability when making purchasing decisions. As these two generations wield $65 billion and $100 billion in purchasing power, respectively, paying attention to their preferences can give you a competitive advantage. If you’re currently sending out food in plastic containers with clear lids, it could be time to rethink your restaurant’s sustainability practices.

Sustainability made simpler

Sometimes, boosting restaurant sustainability is as simple as choosing different to-go containers and lids. Start by considering your use of plastic; it’s one of the biggest contributors to ocean pollution and accounts for 12.2% of solid waste. While it may not be feasible to completely eliminate plastic packaging, reducing your usage can help.

You might also consider joining Grubhub in the CutOutCutlery campaign, which is designed to help address the issue of plastic waste in the restaurant industry. The aim is simple — by requiring that customers opt in to receive plastic cutlery with their food, you can help reduce the amount of utensils that are thrown out unused. It’s an easy action, but it can go a long way toward reducing the 40 billion pieces of disposable cutlery American diners use each year.

When you partner with Grubhub for delivery orders, it’s easier than ever to be sustainable. Each order automatically defaults to a no-cutlery setting, cutting back on plastic waste immediately.

Some additional ways to increase sustainability in your restaurant include:

  • Educate. Let customers know what they can do with their takeout containers when they’re done eating. Depending on the container, this might include recycling them or reusing them as food storage.
  • Reduce. Streamline your packaging and use disposable items to minimize waste. While you’re at it, you might adjust portion sizes or kitchen practices to reduce food waste.
  • Go local. Incorporate locally sourced food into your menu whenever possible; it requires less fuel, produces fewer emissions and supports the local economy.
  • Recycle. For convenience, offer on-site recycling to help customers separate their plastic, paper, food scraps and landfill waste.

If you decide to implement a recycling program, make sure you understand what each recycling symbol means. The most recognizable symbol features a triangle made with three arrows. It indicates that the item can be recycled, and the number in the center explains how. If you don’t see this symbol on paper or plastic products, they may not be recyclable.

You may also see symbols that indicate a product is compostable or biodegradable. Compost symbols vary; some feature a circle with an apple core in the center, while others look like a ribbon loop with leaves at one end. Biodegradable products often feature a triangle or circle made of leaves.

What are the best to-go containers for restaurant delivery?

When you’re choosing the best takeout container for your restaurant, sustainability is a top factor. The most sustainable food containers are compostable or biodegradable; they’re usually made from compostable paper, sugarcane, wheat straw or bamboo. Recyclable paper, plastic, or aluminum boxes and hot cups are the next best solution.

Make sure to consider other factors, including:

  • durability. Your container should be strong enough to support the weight of the food without sagging or collapsing. For heavy, wet items, a container with a clear lid is often a sturdy option.
  • Sizing. To-go containers should be sized to fit the portion. Go too big and your servings will look small; too small and the contents will be challenging to eat without spills.
  • Loose lids. The lid should fit tightly, even when the package shifts during transit.
  • Branding. Customize takeout containers with branding to support your marketing efforts. Depending on your delivery and takeout volume, you might order preprinted packages or personalize them with a stamp.

The best takeout containers fulfill each of these categories. You can order them from restaurant wholesalers. If sustainability is a top priority, work with a sales representative to identify boxes that are both secure and environmentally friendly.

How can you package food for delivery to ensure quality?

After you choose to-go containers, it’s important to train your kitchen staff in proper food packaging. When everyone in your restaurant understands best practices, it helps ensure each meal arrives in good condition.

As you’re packaging food, follow these steps:

  1. Separate hot and cold items. Keeping them in separate bags makes it easy to maintain the correct temperature in transit. Use insulated bags to help keep hot foods hot during delivery.
  2. Package liquids carefully. Choose containers with tight lids, and ensure they’re secure before packing them. Use cup carriers for extra stability, and make sure glass bottles are protected.
  3. Follow alcohol delivery rules. For beverage delivery, make sure to label drinks as alcoholic and package them in a separate container. Clear labels keep you compliant and make it easier for delivery drivers to follow local laws.
  4. Vent fried foods. Keep fried items crispy by choosing vented boxes that let out condensation.
  5. Labels and seals. Give customers extra confidence by sealing plastic and paper food containers to ensure food safety. It’s also a good idea to label hot liquids to prevent spills and injuries to both delivery drivers and diners.

Partner with Grubhub for sustainable food delivery

Safe packaging is the first step; it’s also important to work with a reliable delivery partner. At Grubhub, our platform optimizes punctuality and efficiency to maximize food quality. Drivers can pick up orders within minutes of preparation, and delivery zone boundaries ensure meals arrive quickly. With the integrated utility opt-in, sustainability is built into the process.

Sign up for Grubhub today to start serving sustainable customers.