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Does Your Takeout Have an Eco Conscience?

Written by Dee Brun

“What are tonight’s specials?” is often the most frequently asked question when dining in a restaurant. However, since the pandemic, our dining habits have done a monumental shift to takeout.

This begs the question, do you ask the restaurant what type of takeout containers it uses?

The Agri-Food Analytics Lab (AAL) at Dalhousie University estimates that for the last 6 months of 2020. 4.2 million MORE Canadians ordered food online at least once a week than before the pandemic.

While the United States alone uses enough disposable utensils in a year to wrap around the earth 139 times, The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) documented that 26.6% of waste collected from our own shores in 2020 was single use food and beverage items; nearly double that of 2019. In a now sterile-centric day and age, with single-serve culture being the main go-to, how do we take care of our one and only planet.

There are many ways restaurants are trying to do better. You may have noticed a lot more businesses will ask if you need cutlery, straws, napkins or even condiments with your order. Reusable or bring-back containers have become more popular as most of these can be reused up to 100 times. Paper and green bin options are also growing in popularity. Often these items are made from corn.

I recently got takeout from Toronto Pho restaurant, who back in April introduced their new sustainable packaging.

“The more eco friendly we are, the less environmental impact we and our customers have to worry about whenever they order their favourite dishes from Toronto Pho. The rise in takeout orders in Toronto has challenged us to do better with our takeout packaging.”

They didn’t just stop at their containers. As of August 2021, all locations will also have wooden cutlery and biodegradable paper products and packaging. Not only are they thinking of the end product they serve to their customers, they are also thinking of the energy and pollution it takes to create the items they are using. Start to finish, they have thought about how to deliver an amazing product in a way that is kinder to the earth.

I also ordered takeout from Beertown in Waterloo and El Catrin Destileria in Toronto’s Distillery District. Between the two, there was a combination of reusable bring-back and biodegradable cardboard packaging; a good sign that the industry is moving in the right direction.

Switching from plastic and styrofoam is not cheap. On average, it costs 3 times more to use more planet-friendly options. However, when I asked a few restaurant owners why they chose to go this route, especially during a pandemic when revenues are taking such a hit, their answers were not all just about being concerned for the environment. With people not being able to experience their restaurants in person, they want the customers’ takeout experience to be as close as possible to the real thing. Yes, it’s more expensive, but the end product is fresher and experiences fewer spills than styrofoam.