A woman wearing a dark blue apron stands behind a long wooden counter and packs food into a recyclable cardboard takeout box. The box is filled with small cardboard cups of sliced green vegetables and rice. An identical box, already filled, sits next to the first box on the counter.
Sustainable packaging can include takeout containers, plates, and utensils made of recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable materials. — Getty Images/kyotokushige

Nearly 30% (or 82.2 million tons) of the total municipal waste generated in 2018 came from containers and packaging. Beverage packaging alone amounts to roughly 26% of marine litter. With the increasing environmental impact of food delivery and takeout packaging, two-thirds of consumers want restaurants to provide more sustainable options.

Likewise, businesses are becoming more aware of their environmental impact and searching for ways to minimize their carbon footprints. A 2022 study of 850 companies from all over the world found that 80% planned to increase their sustainability efforts. Here are five small businesses hoping they can help by creating sustainable takeout packaging solutions.

Ultra Green Sustainable Packaging

Founded in 2007, Ultra Green Sustainable Packaging is owned by Kristin Davidson and operates out of Mound, Minnesota. Ultra Green touts itself as the first sustainable food packaging company to manufacture on U.S. soil. It also sources some fiber-based products from China.

Rather than using trees, Ultra Green utilizes fast-growing agricultural by-products such as wheat straw, cornstarch, and bagasse. All products are produced in a chemical-free, zero-waste process and are certified compostable by the American Society for Testing and Materials standards.

AGREENOZZI

“Changing the world from disposable to reusable one meal at a time” is AGREENOZZI’s motto. Thomas L. Wright and William Andreozzi launched this company in 2014. The pair has created a closed-loop borrowing system of recyclable to-go boxes, meaning they not only manufacture green packaging but they’ve also engineered a machine that simplifies the process by collecting used O2GO containers. Partnering businesses exchange O2GO containers for tokens with their diners and those containers can be returned to OZZI machines for a credit to use next time.

All of the machines and BPA-free #5 plastic containers are made in the United States. Each O2GO container can be used up to 300 times, diverting 25 million disposable to-go boxes from landfills to date. AGREENOZZI’s partners include colleges and universities, health care facilities, military bases, and environmentally responsible businesses.

DeliverZero

In 2019, three young New York parents were determined to create zero-waste takeout delivery. One of DeliverZero's founders, Lauren Sweeney, is a single working mom and relies on the convenience of this type of service but hates the waste attached to it. The founders followed a tried and true restaurant delivery model but replaced disposable containers with reusable ones.

Rather than using trees, Ultra Green utilizes fast-growing agricultural by-products such as wheat straw, cornstarch, and bagasse.

The BPA-free containers, designed to be reused up to 1,000 times, are provided to partner restaurants at no charge and customers pay a 99-cent fee. The containers can then be returned in person to an in-network restaurant or picked up by a scheduled courier. Restaurants are responsible for sanitizing the containers and DeliverZero recycles any damaged or worn-out boxes.

Currently, DeliverZero is partnered with over 150 restaurants in New York. DoorDash and Caviar offer DeliverZero as an option through their apps for participating restaurants. The company estimates that if DeliverZero was used for 1 million containers, over 25 tons of waste would be averted from landfills.

VerTerra

In 2006, Michael Dwork created the first palm leaf plate. VerTerra’s Dinnerware From Fallen Leaves line is made with only fallen palm leaves and water. Over time, the company has expanded its product offering to include takeout packaging made from scrap balsa wood and rice paper. Because everything is au naturel, these products are intended for single use and break down in a matter of two months.

VerTerra’s headquarters are in Norwalk, Connecticut. The company has calculated that the amount of energy used to transport its products from South Asia to the United States via cargo ship is equivalent to a round-trip truck drive from New York to Boston.

MEMEDA

Winnie Kong started MEMEDA in 2022 to manufacture eco-friendly to-go products. Kong’s mission is to make a small but significant change in the amount of plastic consumers come into contact with day-to-day. MEMEDA primarily uses PLA (polylactic acid), which is a bioplastic derived from natural materials like corn or sugar cane, allowing it to biodegrade in a commercial composter within three months. PLA is 100% biosourced and biodegradable, so projectors expect the bioplastics market to increase between 10% and 15% per year by 2025.

MEMEDA also offers customization for business branding. This company is based in Irvine, California.

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