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Food Delivery Packaging and the 3 Rs

Ordering takeout this evening? Or a cooking with a meal kit, perhaps?


During the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans were having food delivered 2.4 times per week, and since then, the popularity of takeout and meal kits has continued to rise. But with their increasing popularity has come a surge in packaging waste. And unfortunately, food delivery packaging is often made plastic, which, is not a very environmentally-friendly material.


Besides minimizing your food delivery, what can you do with food delivery packaging to reduce your carbon footprint? Harkening back to our discussion of the 3 Rs - reduce, reuse, and recycle - we provide some ideas below:


Supermarket and Restaurant Delivery Bags

Plastic delivery bags are often made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) or low-density polyethylene (LDPE) plastics and will have a #2 or #4 on them. Very few municipal recycling programs accept them, but you can recycle them at participating grocery stores or retailers that have recycling drop-off locations.


If plastic bags don't have a recycling symbol on them, they should ideally be reused to extend their lifespan.


Meal-kit Packaging

These kits often includes various plastic components like bags, trays, and wrappers. Look for recycling symbols on the plastics, which indicate the type of plastic used and whether it's recyclable or not. If recycling is available for those plastics, rinse them out and place them in the appropriate recycling bin. Like bags, if kits don't have a recycling symbol on them, they should ideally be reused to extend their lifespan.

Insulation materials like polyethylene bubble wrap and polystyrene (EPS) foam are typically not accepted in curbside recycling programs. However, bubble wrap can be recycled with plastic bags at grocery stores or retailers that have recycling drop-off locations. For EPS foam, check with your local recycling center or search online for recycling options. Reuse bubble wrap and foam if they can't be recycled.


Gel packs or ice packs used in meal kits are typically made of non-toxic materials, but they cannot be recycled. Given this limitation, you have a few options:

  • Reuse: If the gel packs are still in good condition, you can reuse them for other purposes like keeping food cold for picnics or camping trips. Just make sure to store them properly when not in use.

  • Donate: Consider donating unopened and unused gel packs to local food banks or organizations that may have a use for them.


Plastic Utensils

Unfortunately, these single-use utensils are challenging to recycle due to their small size and mixed plastic composition. If possible, try to reduce the use of single-use utensils by requesting no utensils with your order or using your own reusable utensils. If you end up with plastic utensils, check if they can be repurposed or reused.


To identify nearby locations where plastics and other household items can be recycled, visit Earth911 or RecycleNation.


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