Your Guide to Compostable Takeout Containers

The dirt on compostable takeout containers: Everything you need to know.

Compostable takeout containers are growing in popularity as the world moves toward more sustainable and eco-friendly practices. These containers offer a range of benefits, and understanding the different types available can help businesses and individuals make informed choices.

From materials to timelines, benefits, and more, our article covers everything you need to know about compostable takeout containers.

In this article:

Environmental Impact of Plastic Takeout Containers

In our fast-paced world, takeout and delivery have become more than a convenience; they’re an integral part of daily life for countless individuals. As such, plastic takeout containers have increasingly cluttered our world, silently unfolding an environmental narrative that requires urgent attention. Plastic, revered for its durability and versatility, now presents a grave ecological challenge.

Traditional plastic containers, while convenient, are made from non-renewable petroleum-based plastics. The cost of this convenience is not reflected in the price of a meal, but rather in the environmental toll it takes. Despite that they’re recyclable, plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose. They persist in landfills and oceans long after their brief service as food carriers has ended. During their lengthy decomposition process, they break down into microplastics. These tiny particles find their way into our waterways and food chains, with the potential to disrupt ecosystems and harm wildlife.

Furthermore, the production of plastic containers is a carbon-intensive process, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and exacerbating the global climate crisis. As these containers accumulate, they become a symbol of a disposable culture.

And amidst recycling systems struggling to keep pace with the sheer volume of waste, a staggering statistic emerges: only 9% of plastic is being recycled.

Recognizing the dire consequences, consumers, businesses, and municipalities alike are turning to eco-friendlier alternatives. This is where compostable takeout containers come into play. By shifting the guidebook of food packaging toward compostable options, we can significantly reduce the ecological footprint of our takeout habits.

Understanding Biodegradable and Compostable Materials

Though we often use them interchangeably, “biodegradable” and “compostable” are two distinct terms. This distinction is crucial for businesses looking to make informed decisions, as each term has specific implications for the environment and the management of material waste.

Biodegradable Materials

Biodegradable items break down with the help of natural organisms, but the process can be lengthy and unpredictable. Furthermore, biodegradable doesn’t always mean compostable. Nor does it mean that the product is environmentally friendly, as it may leave toxic remains behind or come from non-renewable resources.

Compostable Materials

In contrast, all compostable products are biodegradable. Compostable items must break down into non-toxic, organic matter within a specific timeframe (usually around 90 days in a commercial facility). Compostable products, like takeout containers, must adhere to strict standards that ensure the item breaks down into nutrient-rich compost, contributing to a circular economy.

Why does this matter?

The crucial difference between these terms impacts businesses, consumers, and compost facilities. For example, if a ‘biodegradable’ container is mistakenly sent to a composting facility, it might not break down within the facility’s time frame and contaminate the resulting compost. If contamination occurs, the compost pile must go to landfill.

Therefore, it’s crucial to have proper waste management strategies in place to ensure that products end up in the appropriate bins. Without these strategies, even the best compostable takeout container could fail to deliver on its environmental promise.

The shift from traditional plastics to compostable solutions is not just a matter of swapping materials; it’s about embracing a holistic approach to sustainability that covers production, use, and post-use processes.

Learn More: Compostable vs Biodegradable: What’s the difference?

Compostable takeout container (portion cup) with moss inside

Disposal and Composting Processes

When it comes to disposing of compostable takeout containers, understanding the proper composting process is essential to ensure these products enrich the environment after use rather than contribute to waste.

Composting Facilities
The ideal destination for compostable containers is a commercial composting facility. These specialized facilities provide the perfect balance of microbes, temperature, and moisture required to break down organic matter quickly and safely. Containers in these settings will decompose and be processed into nutrient-rich compost in less than three months.

Home Composting
Paper or bagasse containers may also breakdown in home composts. However, it’s important to know that home compost piles may take longer to break down compostable materials compared to commercial facilities. As well, home composts are not equipped to breakdown containers that have a plastic lining or contain bioplastic. Bioplastic is not known to breakdown well in commercial composts, and isn’t necessarily fully compostable. Only organic material should find itself in your home compost pile.

Proper Disposal
Please review local guidelines for information on how to properly dispose of takeout containers in your city. Composting options vary greatly depending on the area. 

Learn More: 4 Reasons Why Bioplastics Aren’t the Answer to Our Plastic Problem

Can Compostable Takeout Containers be Microwaved?

Sometimes delivery takes a while or left overs need to be reheated. But can compostable to go containers go in the microwave?

Aqueous and Unlined Paper Containers

Aqueous-lined paper containers (which are coated in a thin layer of water-based coating) and unlined paper containers are safe for microwave use. These containers do not contain plastic or harmful chemicals. They are designed to withstand heat without breaking down or releasing toxic substances into food.

PLA-lined Containers

Containers lined with polylactic acid (PLA) or other bioplastics are not microwavable. PLA has a lower melting point than conventional plastics. When hated in a microwave, it can can warp, melt, and bubble.

Plastic and Plastic-lined Containers

While plastic containers have been a microwavable staple, it’s worth being cautious with them. When heated, these containers can release microplastics. Given the potential health and environmental risks associated with microplastics, it is advisable to avoid microwaving food in plastic containers whenever possible.

Learn More: The Dangers of Microplastics

Compostable takeout clamshell container with moss inside

Benefits of Compostable Takeout Containers

Switching to compostable takeout containers from traditional plastic or styrofoam options offers significant environmental and social advantages, aligning with the growing global commitment to sustainability. Here are the key benefits of making the switch:

1. Reducing Environmental Impact

Compostable containers are typically made from renewable materials like paper or sugarcane fibre. Using these containers helps decrease reliance on fossil fuels and can lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions throughout the production cycle.

2. Supporting a Circular Economy

Compostable takeout containers are designed to break down fully. They then become nutrient rich compost that can improve soil structure and support plant growth, fostering a circular economy.

3. Improving Brand Image

Businesses that choose compostable containers can enhance their brand image by showcasing their commitment to sustainability. Consumers are calling for sustainable products, which means that using eco-friendly takeout ware can influence public opinion positively and attract more customers to your restaurant.

4. Complying with Regulations

As governments worldwide implement restrictions on single-use plastics and other non-compostable materials, switching to compostable containers ensures compliance with regulations. It avoids potential fines and penalties while demonstrating environmental responsibility.

Learn More: The BC Plastic Ban Breakdown (Updated)

compostable takeout container on green moss with black background

Where to find compostable takeout containers?

For restaurants and food service businesses, sourcing certified compostable takeout containers can be a challenging task. Everything is labelled as “eco-friendly” or “green,” so how do you know what products are truly environmentally responsible?

When it comes to eco-friendly disposable takeout containers, Origin Sustainables stands out as a prime supplier. 

For 35 years, Origin has been a trailblazer in eco-friendly food service solutions, skillfully blending innovative designs with a commitment to environmental responsibility. Our extensive experience within the industry and vigilant monitoring of changing regulations empower us to provide products that are consistently compliant and ahead of legislative trends.

At Origin, we aspire to make every product serve a dual purpose: to meet immediate service needs and to symbolize a commitment to the environment. We envision a commercial landscape where ecological integrity and business excellence coalesce harmoniously.

Partner with Origin Sustainables, and confidently chart a course through the eco-regulatory landscape with our compostable products. With us, you’re not just compliant but a proactive force for positive environmental change.

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