burger in disposable packaging

It’s 8 p.m. and your stomach is rumbling. But the contents of the refrigerator aren’t promising, the weather outside is no match for that flimsy $10 umbrella, and there’s no way you’re changing out of those sweatpants. On this night, fast and cheap delivery is your only option. Unfortunately, that delicious Thai takeout meal comes with a lot of wasteful packaging.

Takeout and delivery restaurants are notorious for loading you up with everything from polystyrene foam boxes to plastic silverware and packets of condiments. Reducing this unnecessary waste, however, is easier than you may think.

1. Just Say “No”

It really is that easy. The disposables may be handy for a picnic, but are they really necessary when you’re eating in your own kitchen?

If you’re calling in for delivery or carrying out, request no single-use food-ware. That includes disposable napkins, plastic utensils, straws, and coffee stirrers. If these extras are included with your order, call the restaurant and remind them you will not order again if they continue the practice. That call will cut down enormously on waste because a negative customer call is taken seriously by most businesses.

Nevertheless, this article is all about convenience. If you live in one of the more than 1,600 U.S. cities (and London!) in which food delivery website GrubHub.com operates, greening your order is as simple as checking a box. In an effort to help cut down on waste, GrubHub offers the option to decline things like napkins, plastic-ware, and straws during checkout. Just opt out with an automatic “No.”

No matter which restaurant or service you order your takeout from, there’s no reason you can’t say no to those trash-bound extras.

2. Reuse Your To-Go Containers

Polystyrene foam containers remain the packaging material of choice for many restaurants. The material is lightweight and insulated to keep food warm. However, it’s hard to recycle, and many cities have already banned it.

Another popular choice for eateries is containers made from plastic #1 or #2 that include lids that snap on. While these are more easily recyclable, they’re even better to keep around the house for packing sandwiches or storing leftovers (this author admits to hoarding a stack that has come in handy for hand-packed lunches).

As for those aluminum bowls common to calzones and noodles, this material can be reused over and over again. Simply wash, dry, and store.

3. Compost Your Leftovers

You might think it’s confusing, but starting a compost pile isn’t that hard. And so many waste items from your takeout dinner can go in your compost. Non-greasy vegetables, noodles, fruit peelings, and even brown paper bags and napkins can be composted.

As for you city-dwellers, you have no more excuses for passing on compost. We’ve spelled out how to compost in urban areas, even if you don’t have time, space, or a backyard.

Feature image: Oliur Rahman on Pexels

Editor’s note: Originally published on October 11, 2010, this story was updated in July 2018.