Green To Go

How switching to green food packaging can make a positive impact.

Switching to environmentally friendly takeout containers provides one of the best opportunities to make a sustainable impact.     

The latest generation of to-go packaging features more recycled paper, plastic and plant-based materials than ever before, and more products that can be composted or recycled after use.

Several colleges and universities, including Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas; Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., are leading the pack in green packaging. 

And restaurants that already feature environmental and sustainability initiatives increasingly are getting on board, like Tres Carnes in New York, Grand Rapids Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids, Mich., Le Crêpe Café in Honolulu, and SOL Mexican Cocina, in Newport Beach, Calif., and Scottsdale, Ariz.  

But making the switch comes with a price. 

Some earth-friendly packaging may cost two or three times as much as standard foam, paper and plastic materials, according to Joe Pawlak, vice president of Chicago-based foodservice research firm Technomic. 

Green products are still growing, albeit slowly. Less than one percent of the $20 billion disposables market is made up of environmentally friendly products, either commercially compostable or made with recycled materials, according to Technomic.

As more operators get on board, industry leaders say that increasing production will help drive down costs. “Once a major chain moves to 100 percent environmentally friendly packaging, we’ll see the market change dramatically,” Pawlak says. More commercial composting facilities will help too, he adds.

Despite progress on the green scene, restaurant owners and suppliers continue to respond to annual membership surveys saying they are most concerned about the cost and performance of packaging, says Lynn Dyer, president of the Foodservice Packaging Institute, an industry trade association based in Falls Church, Va.

“That bottom line is the product has to perform,” she says. 

Bareburger, an independently owned organic burger chain in New York, uses biodegradable or made from recycled paper containers, cups, bags and paper products . 

“Depending on the product, the price to use these items can be double or even triple in cost for the restaurant. [But] hands down, the performance is there and it is worth the extra cost,” says Mark Turner, a Bareburger’s operations manager. “We know many of our guests respect and love this about us.”

Think Green: 5 Earth-friendly Products 

Folia by Eco-Products

Green factor: Made from 100 percent renewable and reclaimed sugarcane fibers (bagasse). Commercially compostable.

Features: Tear-away flaps for easy access to food. Side flaps hold condiments and cutlery. For hot or cold foods; microwave- and freezer-safe. 

Sizes: Six sizes from 12- to 84-ounce capacity.

More info:

Greenware On-The-Go by Fabri-Kal

Green factor: Made from a polylactic acid (PLA) resin derived from renewable plant sources. Commercially compostable.

Features: Showcases grab-and-go food combinations like fresh fruit and dip and sandwiches and salads. Compact shape maximizes shelf space.

Sizes: Two-, three- and four-cell designs with one lid that fits all. 

More info:

Wheatstraw Fiber Take-Out Boxes by World Centric

Green factor: An all-in-one container made from wheatstraw fiber and bagasse, a renewable resource. Wheatstraw fiber containers with polylactic acid (PLA) lids also are available. Commercially compostable.  

Features: Microwave- and freezer-safe. Clear compostable lid also available.  

Sizes: Wheatstraw fiber containers available in a variety of sizes.

More info:

Bio-Plus View by Fold-Pak

Green factor: Made from 100 percent recycled paperboard with a minimum of 35 percent post-consumer content. Polyethylene liner and window.

Features: New anti-fog window. Leak resistant and microwaveable. 

Sizes: Five sizes ranging from 26- to 96-ounce capacity.

More info:

EarthChoice by Pactiv Corporation

Green factor: Made from sugarcane (bagasse) and bamboo, which are sustainable, renewable resources. Commercially compostable.  

Features: Polylactic acid (PLA)-lined soup and hot cups, and hinged to-go containers. Embossed lid helps convey sustainable message. 

Sizes: Variety of sizes. 

More info:

Not all green packaging is created equal  

Here are some eco-terms to know:


The pulp that remains after renewable and sustainable raw materials such as bamboo, reed, rice, hemp and sugarcane are processed.


Solid materials that break down as a result of natural bacteria activity and disappear into the environment over a period of time. 

Commercially compostable

Solid materials that decay under controlled conditions in a commercial composting facility utilizing microorganisms, humidity and temperature. This is different than backyard or home composting, which turns organic waste such as leaves, food scraps and lawn clippings into a soil-like fertilizer.

Plastarch material (PSM) 

Resin made with various biodegradable materials and starch filler.  

Polylactic acid (PLA) 

Biopolymer made from plants that can be formed into linings for paper cups and other products, such as hinged to-go containers often used for cold sandwiches and salads.

Post-consumer recycled content

Materials such as corrugated boxes, newspapers and bottles that have been recovered and reprocessed after initial use by consumers. 


Materials that can be reclaimed or reprocessed into new products.

Renewable and sustainable resources

Naturally occurring raw materials such as bamboo, reed, rice, hemp and sugarcane that can be transplanted, harvested and replanted.

For more information, see the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides at