May 15, 2008 The Pump Handle 11Comment

After dinner last night at a local tavern, I asked the waiter for a container to carry home our leftovers.  He promptly returned with a No. 5 plastic container (damn!).  Have you ever looked at the carry-out containers you receive from your local restaurants?  Are they made of a recyclable material?  Are they made of a recyclable material that the city you live in will actually recycle? 

According to the District of Columbia Office of Recycling, “carry-out containers” are not allowed in recycling bins.  I propose that we petition the City Council to pass a law requiring either the Office of Recycling to accept and recycle carry-out containers or that all restauranters or vendors using carry-out containers must find a container that will be accepted and recycled by the Office of Recycling. 

What happens in your city?

Ruth Long, MA, MPH is a research associate with the GWU School of Public Health & Health Services.  She lives on Capitol Hill with her husband and toddler.

11 thoughts on “Carry Out Containers Gone Awry

  1. Yeah! and what ever happened to those wax paper doggie bags that restaurants used to use? I loved that little pooch!

  2. FYI: I recently spoke to the Director of Recycling in Alexandria about wire hangers (also not recycled in this area). Evidently, Waste Management is the company that handles our region, including D.C. According to the Director, if WM won’t take something, the entire region is out of luck — or maybe not. There are sometimes ways around WM: I’m organizing a wire hanger drive and dropping all of them off at a scrap metal facility. Not that you’d want to do that with take-out containers, but maybe we should petition WM instead of the City Council.

  3. In Berkeley, Ca. all carryout containers must be made of material that can recycle. The plates, etc also must be made of a natural fiber that you can put in the green waste bin.

  4. This is an interesting conversation to me since I am working with a cafe that does not have dishwashing facilities to obtain eco-friendlier disposables, and those darn compostable clamshells are EXPENSIVE! My own solution was to charge people .20 per clamshell because it is their choice to take-out, and the eat-in facilities are quite nice…

    To the Berkeley person, you are almost right….Berk. Municipal Code only requires 50% of the takeout containers to be degradable:

    Section 11.60.040 Degradable and recyclable food packaging.
    A. Restaurants:
    1. At least fifty percent by volume of each restaurant’s food packaging, in which prepared food is
    provided to customers, or which is kept, purchased, or obtained for this purpose, shall be degradable or
    2. Each restaurant shall maintain written records evidencing its compliance with this section.
    B. Retail food vendors:
    1. At least fifty percent by volume of each retail food vendor’s packaging, in which takeout food is
    provided to customers, or which is kept, purchased, or obtained for this purpose, shall be degradable or
    2. Each retail food vendor shall maintain written records evidencing its compliance with this section.
    (Ord. 5888-NS § 4, 1988)

  5. In Oregon, we can generally recycle all Numbers. When I was a kid, it used to only be even numbered plastics. However, I believe that take-out containers are generally considered to be a no-no because of food residue.

    Styrofoam, on the other hand, is not something that can be placed in the recycle bin. It is recyclable, and if you drop it off at a center I believe it will be recycled. However, you can’t leave it for curbside pick-up because of the excessive transportation costs associated for transporting the light-weight yet space-hogging material. Every year some organization will hold a special styrofoam collection, but it takes a very special recycler to hoarde a year’s worth of styrofoam for the event.

  6. Ruth, I know that in general, only plastics 1 and 2 can be recycled and that the food take out containers are usually 5 or some other non-recyclable kind. Some food containers I’ve gotten, though, are made of 1 or 2, and I have put those in recycling bins. Do you know if the district and Maryland/VA take those? I hope I am not “contaminating” the bins and causing hostile janitors to throw out all the recycling! (We dealt with that in college a lot. If someone threw a tissue in the paper recycling, custodial staff sometimes just threw out the entire contents of the can– including the appropriate items.)

    Anyway, back to my original question: If the DC metro area WILL recycle 1 and 2 plastic food containers, can we get more restaurants to use THOSE instead of the non-recyclable plastic ones?

    Two more side notes:

    1.) Whole Foods, at least the one in Silver Spring, MD– currently have recycling bins for those #5 yogurt cups I always feel so guilty about throwing out! They are donating them to be used in making those plastic flower pots that so many people throw out at the end of the season.

    2.) A solution to the doggie-bag guilt, from The Pump Handle’s own Liz Borkowski? Bring your own, reusable Tupperware!

  7. I thought you may benefit from overseas experience.

    In Australia we recycle plastics 1 – 6 in most big cities, and 1 – 3 almost everywhere else. The technology is there, why not use it? Surely it is only a matter of having the collection and recycling contract re-written when it comes time to renew the contract. It may cost more, but in many cases I know of in Australia, we pay for the service through our local councils knowing that it makes a loss. Local councils are run for the benefit of ratepayers and if we decide we want to spend our money on recycling, then so be it.

    Please note that everyone is urged to rinse out containers of all types prior to placing them in the recycling bin. That deals with the food scraps issue.

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