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Takeout Containers and Sustainability

What’s the problem with takeout food containers?

Single-use plastics are for the most part not recyclable. Technically, maybe, but the reality is that most don’t get recycled because it’s not economically feasible. And unlike glass bottles or aluminum cans which can be recycled over and over again plastics that go into the recycling stream are “upcycled” or “downcycled” into just one final product and then become garbage. If we’re lucky those go to landfill, because if not many end up in our storm drains, environment, and Bay harming wildlife and making our beautiful landscape look ugly. So, what’s a person or business to do?

Reusables are the best!

If you are hosting a party, event, or run a business with a lot of food, try to use real plates, cups, and utensils as much as you can. People would much rather be treated to durable products than throw-away. If you don’t have an easy way to wash dishes you can rent them and let someone else do the washing. San Rafael has two major rental companies in town that will provide dishes, glasses, utensils, etc. and can even deliver along with nice, cloth table coverings. There are reusable container programs you can sign up with as well such as Sparkl Reusables, which the City is partnering with. Here’s a great primer.

Compostables are a great second choice

If you have to use single-use products for some reason, please check to make sure they are truly compostable. Don’t be fooled by greenwashing! Marin Sanitary Service has a great “Where Does it Go, Joe?” search function to see if something is accepted in their compost program. Check out this procurement list we developed in conjunction with the Agricultural Institute of Marin if you want to see some examples. And don’t forget to shop local! There are several places you can go to buy compostable products, just do a web search for restaurant and party supplies and voila! The County also put together a great resource of different types of products you can use. Remember, bioplastics cannot be composted here – anything that looks like plastic and says “biodegradable” is pretty much trash. It’s complicated but steer clear even if they say made of corn, potato or sugar cane. None of it can be composted here.

Can it be recycled?

One thing to think about is whether you need to get cups or glasses. If you are serving beverages why not get them in aluminum cans or glass bottles and leave it at that? They can easily be recycled and can reduce waste dramatically. Aluminum tubs and foils can be good in some instances as well but note that if they are soiled with sticky foodstuff they can’t be recycled. Remember, most plastic things cannot be recycled even if they have the little arrows on them. That’s mostly just marketing. Remember, if in doubt ask Joe!

County Reusable Foodware Ordinance

The County of Marin is working on a reusable foodware ordinance to combat plastic pollution. Check it out and see if you have any comments. The City of San Rafael is working with the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce Green Business Committee to conduct outreach to local businesses to get feedback. Let us know if you have any by emailing sustainability@cityofsanrafael.org

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