Takeout Containers Could Have a Green Future

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If there's one this American restaurants reliably go big on, it's portion sizes. We're a nation that loves its leftovers, not least because that extra serving can make for a nice and potentially money-saving lunch the next day. Americans also have any number of ways to bring those leftovers home, from waxed cardboard boxes to Styrofoam clamshells.

One of the most familiar is the single-use plastic. You might make the effort to clean and reuse these bad boys, but it's more likely you toss them in the recycling bin. Unfortunately, only about 20 percent of single-use plastic containers actually get recycled, even if you do everything right on your end. If you're the kind of person who really wants to pitch in for sustainability, what are our options?

Civil Eats has a big, thorough breakdown of our takeout container alternatives, both pro and con. Some, like bioplastics that break down or compost, sound really promising, but may prove trickier to integrate into the recycling stream than advertised. Ultimately, we may not be able to buy our way into sustainability when it comes to food waste. The best option, other than a massive cultural shift on portion sizes, is relying on truly reusable containers — yes, like (the horror!) bringing your own glassware to a restaurant for your leftovers.

Zero-waste advocates urge anyone curious about the lifestyle to focus on ways to buy less, rather than shopping "better." Behavior changes are more likely to create big change, but until then, the best thing you can do for recycling your single-use plastics is to wash them thoroughly before you put them out on the curb. Facilities use up valuable energy water-blasting the last remains of your pad thai. Give them a leg up, and less of an excuse to toss your takeout.