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Living in the Time of Take-Out

By Jana Fischback with help from Betsy Dudash

The Thai Restaurant photos provided by Jenny Rojanasthien and Jackie Endsley

It has been heartwarming to see how our community has rallied around restaurants during their closure. As local eateries scrambled to figure out how to safely provide their food to-go, people started spreading the word about all the businesses that are staying open and doing their best to keep their employees working. My friend Luke Boyce created a Facebook page, “Wenatchee Area Curbside, Takeout & Delivery Restaurants,” and it has grown to over 4,000 members in just about a week. Even though we can’t share meals right now, food still connects us in this uncertain time.

At Sustainable Wenatchee, we definitely have opinions about the types of take-out containers being used. Of course the lives lost from coronavirus matter more than what our take-out comes in. But we also think that when a business owner takes the time to research eco-friendly take-out containers and pays extra for them - they’re almost always more expensive - they should get some credit for trying to reduce their business’ waste.

The Thai Restaurant offers a variety of eco-friendly take-out containers:

A lot of local restaurant owners have done just that. I recently got take-out from The Thai Restaurant and was impressed by their reusable plastic containers. Sumo, Blue Flame, and Visconti’s also offer similar plastic containers that are durable enough to wash and reuse. Saving these is a great way to send family and friends home with leftovers, once we can return to sharing meals with extended family and friends. For now, they could be used to provide a homemade meal for a neighbor, without worrying about getting your container back. Another way to re-purpose plastic containers with a clear lid is to use them to create a “bio-dome” for starting your seeds, a perfect activity while staying home to get a start on your garden or to offer a practical science lesson for kids.

A "bio-dome" made from reusing a plastic to-go container. Photo from Betsy Dudash

Many local restaurants, such as McGlinn’s, Cafe Columbia, and Anjou Bakery, feature compostable options. Others such as Pybus Bistro normally have eco-friendly paper containers but are temporarily having to use whatever is available from their supplier because of shortages. I imagine this is likely to happen to more restaurants as the time of closures goes on.

If you end up with a Styrofoam container, take advantage of our unique opportunity in the Wenatchee area to recycle it. Even those living in big cities don’t usually have the ability to recycle these kinds of containers. However, Dolco Packaging in Wenatchee accepts empty, clean, and dry Styrofoam containers at their drop-off site at 1121 S. Columbia Street.

As for the recyclability of other take-out containers, even a plastic container with a recycling code is probably not sortable in the recycling facility and won’t get recycled. Waste Management has limited their plastic recycling to #1 and #2 bottles or jugs with a screw-off lid, since odd-shaped plastics are difficult to sort, and there’s often not a profitable market for plastics other than #1 and #2. As for paper, if it’s lined in plastic in order to be waterproof, it’s also not recyclable. If it's regular paper and not soiled with food, it can be recycled.

And what about the classic delivery or take-out meal: pizza? Pizza boxes aren’t recyclable because of the grease left on the cardboard. If the top is clean, it can be ripped off and recycled. While technically the greasy cardboard could be composted, grease results in a bad smell and can attract rodents. Cardboard with a very small amount of grease or residue might be ok ripped up and put in your backyard compost pile or tumbler.

We’ve all got a lot more on our minds than whether or not our to-go containers are eco-friendly. It’s a little thing when looked at in the context of this huge crisis we’re experiencing together as a human race. However, if tossed in the landfill, plastic and Styrofoam take-out containers will last for hundreds of years, so business owners who go the extra mile to provide sustainable options will have lasting impact. If you notice a business has gone above and beyond in their packaging, please thank them and consider posting a nice review for them online.

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