Packaging Blues? How to Be Greener During COVID

We were all working hard to avoid filling up landfills. Reusable coffee cups and water bottles trumped plastic and Styrofoam. Little to no packaging was the name of the sustainable game. Plastic cutlery, straws, and individually-wrapped foods were taboo. Less waste, more environmental responsibility. 

Then, suddenly, priorities shifted. 

Sanitation and safety came to the forefront in a way like never before when the coronavirus crisis hit. Individually-packaged food prepared to-go became essential for serving diners safely. And, in order to be compliant with stringent health codes, we said good-bye (for the short-term) to our beloved reusable containers and products. Zero waste has now become “How do we waste less and still meet the health code requirements?”

Not all packaging is created equal.

While it’s not quite taking lemons and making lemonade, using planet-friendly packaging is a step in the right direction during this time. 

Choosing paper products that contain no bleach or chlorine (which give paper products that bright white look) is important because these substances are harmful to the environment. Other attributes to look for in disposable packaging include:

  • Paper sourced from trees grown in Forest Stewardship Council certified forests.
  • Compostable plant-polymer “plastic” made from corn resin.
  • Containers made from post-consumer recycled PET #1 (recycled plastic bottles), diverting plastic from landfills and oceans.

What else can you do?

A lot! You play an important role in reducing and offsetting the impact of single-use items at your company or college dining program. Here are four ways you can take the power back and make a positive planet impact while still dining safely. 

  1. Take only what you need. It sounds simple enough, but it’s a good reminder when you’re getting food to go. Only take what’s essential when you reach for a plastic bag, straw, utensils, napkins, etc. A little intention adds up to a lot less in landfills.
  2. Discard with discretion. Let’s say you chose a meal in environmentally friendly (recyclable and compostable) packaging. Well done! You’ve enjoyed your meal, and now it’s time to dispose of your items properly. Remember to put recyclables in the recycle bin so that you don’t squander all of the effort and energy used to create those items. Make sure plastic containers are clean before recycling.
  3. Sort your waste to the appropriate bins. Improper waste sorting can contaminate whole bins of recycling or composting. Make sure to get those disposable masks, gloves, and plastic bags in the landfill bins. Resist “aspirational recycling”—which is tossing everything into the recycling bin willy-nilly. That can be equally counterproductive.
  4. Reuse at home. Reusable bags, silverware, chopsticks, or beverage bottles/mugs may not be used in dining cafes, unfortunately, but you can use them at home and in your personal life. To keep them germ-free, clean your bags often and wash your water bottles with soap and hot water. 

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