03 • 30 • 2020

The Secret to More Sustainable Takeout

By Rachael Coccia

We can live without Friday happy hours at the bar, seeing a show at the local theater, or, much to our dismay, a weekend outing to our local beach or park. But there’s no compromising a healthy well-balanced diet. In a new reality dominated by takeout, delivery, and empty shelves at the grocery store, finding a sustainable and healthy meal for your family can be a struggle.

We know you need to make the right decision for your family that includes economic considerations, in addition to health and safety. We hope these guidelines will help inform your decision-making, but we also understand circumstances will vary and may even change on a daily basis. If you’re feeling challenged to find a healthy food source for your family, search for a local food pantry or reach out to your local farm to see if they are offering donations.

Unfortunately, with increased takeout comes increased single-use foodware. Depending on where you order from, you may receive plastic, paper, EPS foam (Styrofoam™), aluminum, or fiber-based containers. We already know that plastic hosts a slew of health concerns, from microplastics to chemical leaching, and fiber-based options often contain PFAS, otherwise known as “forever chemicals.” But what we don’t fully know is how COVID-19 reacts to these materials.

A recent study found that the viable virus lasts longer on polypropylene plastic and stainless steel surfaces (up to three days), than on copper and cardboard surfaces (roughly four and 24 hours). Therefore, it is important to play it safe and try to limit the amount of packaging that is entering your home. The best way to do this is by shopping at a local farm stand, where there is likely to be less people, and cooking meals at home. Don’t forget to grab your clean reusable bags before heading out and remember to wash all produce before consuming.

If you choose to order takeout, or your situation demands it, Surfrider recommends the following guidelines:

1) Order from an Ocean Friendly Restaurant

Our Ocean Friendly Restaurants program consists of local leaders that are not only feeding our communities, but are also reducing plastic pollution and conserving water and energy at the same time. When you order from an Ocean Friendly Restaurant, you can rest assured your meal will come with no plastic bag, no EPS foam, and utensils only upon request – plus you’ll be supporting an establishment that recognizes their environmental impact and is dedicated to meeting a higher standard.

2) Request no utensils or straws and minimum packaging

When placing your order over the phone or online, be sure to ask that utensils, straws, and extras like sauce packets are not included with your meal. You can even request it to be prepared with minimum packaging. Some delivery apps now allow you to opt into these items, so pay close attention when placing your order. It may seem small, but this can have a huge combined impact for the ocean. Besides, you’re better off using the clean reusables you already have at home.

3) Transfer items out of to-go containers, especially if hot

There are a number of factors that affect how quickly chemicals leach out of packaging and into your food - and heat is a big one. To minimize your chemical exposure, transfer your food or beverage over to a reusable plate, bowl, or cup once you get it inside. Trust me, it’s worth cleaning the extra dish!

4) Wash hands thoroughly before digging in

Once everything has been moved to reusables, all that’s left to do is wash your hands with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds. Bon appetit!

5) Dispose of packaging properly

Once you’re done with your meal, thoroughly wash and disinfect containers and reuse them for crafting or organizing, or rinse and place in the composting, recycle bin or trash. Remember, just because it looks like plastic that doesn’t mean it can be recycled. If it is bioplastic, (keywords include: made from plants, eco-friendly, or simply displaying a leaf) then it should likely not be recycled and will need to be put in the trash. Regardless of compostability claims, bioplastics & fiber-based bowls will generally be sent to the landfill.

We hope these tips and perspectives will help you better understand your options so you can make the best choice for you and your family. Stay safe, healthy, and when you can, choose to reuse.