Sustainability To Go

The following post is written by Logan Mossbarger, a student majoring in Sustainable Materials and Technology. Logan is currently an intern with the NC State Waste Reduction and Recycling Office.

Are you looking for a way to make your lifestyle more zero waste? If you visit restaurants and grocery stores on a regular basis, consider incorporating reusable containers into your lifestyle. 

Reusable containers are an easy way to reduce waste while still performing the same function as conventional disposable packaging and containers. It can be as simple as going to a store that allows you to use your own containers or utilizing new to-go systems. For example, NC State Dining’s Pack&Go containers.

At NC State, any campus meal plan holder can request a Pack&Go container at the dining halls and return the container on their next visit. NC State Dining’s Pack&Go containers are made of a recyclable material and are also highly reusable. This combination is especially helpful in reducing waste.

Another reason to go reusable is the difficulty in determining whether disposable to-go containers are recyclable. Most to-go containers are made of polypropylene, polystyrene or polyvinyl chloride. In 2017, only 13% of all plastic containers and packaging were recycled with another 17% being combusted for energy recovery. About 70% was sent to the landfill. That’s problematic because both polystyrene and polypropylene can take a few hundred years to break down when they are thrown away after one use. Plus, they don’t always end up in landfills. 

Polystyrene, polypropylene and the toxins associated with them have been known to concentrate within the food chain; so, these products hurt not only wildlife but humans as well. Both of these plastics are made out of petroleum, a non-renewable substance, and their manufacturing processes create emissions that contribute to climate change, water pollution and other environmental harms. As lower-grade plastics break down, they can introduce microplastics into a system, potentially leading to numerous health risks associated with endocrine-disrupting functions.

In terms of cost, it takes between 14 and 16 plastic to-go containers to equal the cost of one reusable container. A conventional to-go container is generally only used once while a reusable container can be used tens to hundreds of times, making back that price difference with just a few trips to your favorite restaurants. 

Reusable containers are an easy and sustainable answer for people looking to make their lifestyle zero waste. The containers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, are made out of reusable and recyclable materials, and are fairly available to the general public. 

I think you will find that implementing reusable containers into your life is fairly simple, especially when there are programs in place to make access easier. You can use reusable containers for a variety of purposes such as getting takeout meals and zero-waste shopping. So what is keeping you from making the switch?