Reusable Container Services: A Sustainable Approach to Grab & Go

The COVID-19 pandemic has no doubt had cascading implications on many sectors of the business world. The food industry, for example, has experienced major changes as many restaurants have remained closed for in-house dining, some for over a year. Per, sales in the restaurant and foodservice industry fell by $240 billion in 2020 from an expected level of $899 billion.

To remain in business, restaurants, and the food service industry in general, have had to be very creative and nimble in their approach, with many turning to food delivery services such as DoorDash to maintain some level of revenue. In fact, DoorDash reported that its revenue grew by a quarterly average of 220% in 2020.

While this approach helped consumers with increased safety and convenience, and restaurants with some revenue, it also created concerns about the rapidly rising use of takeout containers and their sustainability and environmental impact. As many food service containers are now made from plastics, it’s disheartening to learn that National Geographic reports that 91% of these plastics aren’t recycled and are instead buried in landfills or floating in marine environments.

The good news! The fact that 199.52 million Americans self-reported using disposable takeout food containers in 2020 has, if nothing else, increased awareness and further ignited conversations both companies and consumers are having around mindfulness, our impact on the environments around us, and the need for more reusable foodware programs that take environmental responsibility from conversation to action.

Even better news! As we begin to recover from the impact of COVID-19, the increased awareness about reusable container services being used is taking hold, with both restaurant owners and consumers making smart decisions and factoring in sustainability when making choices about the establishments they choose to frequent.

In fact, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, a 2018 survey showed that more than 50% of respondents said they would pay more for fast food sold in sustainable materials, with 35% saying they would pay up to 10% more.

Compostable vs. Biodegradable vs. Recyclable: Confusion Still Abounds

While the terms recyclable, compostable and biodegradable are showing up on more and more types of food takeout packaging in recent years, there is still a lot of confusion and room for improvement.

Reusable container services could help alleviate this growing confusion by giving the food service industry and its patrons the same level of service while also helping both consumers and providers feel better about environmental impacts and sustainability in the foodwares they are using.

Where Confusion Abounds: It’s All in the Definition

  • Recyclable: Defined as materials that can be converted into new materials and objects. The recycling process still requires energy and is hence still contributing to emissions and climate change concerns. Sobering Statistic: The Recycling Rate in 2018 was 32.1%, down from 34.7% in 2015 for all types of recyclables, but those numbers were reported to be even lower in the plastics category, with only 8.7% of items categorized as plastics being recycled.

  • Biodegradable: Defined as a material that is capable of being broken down into natural materials by the action of living things (microorganisms). If something is truly biodegradable, it requires the right conditions and presence of microorganisms, fungi, or bacteria in order to break it down to its basic components and allow it to blend back in to the earth. Ideally, but not always, these substances degrade without leaving any toxins behind. Unfortunately, not everything that is labeled biodegradable actually meets these conditions. Sobering Fact: In an experiment conducted by the University of Plymouth, shopping bags labeled as biodegradable were still present in both soil and seawater after three years.

  • Compostable: Defined as products made from renewable resources such as corn, bamboo, and sugar cane, meaning the material is “commercially” compostable. However, these materials still require facilities with the correct balance of oxygen, moisture, and heat in order to be broken down. In other words, if you throw them in the trash, they won’t break down on their own when they get to the landfill. Sobering Fact: Only a few hundred of the 4,000 nationwide composting facilities can accept compostable foodwares, making the likelihood that wares are actually composted extremely low.


Sure, progress is being made on many fronts, but there’s still the need to limit or altogether remove any kind of single use foodware. In response to these needs, and to further combat the downsides of existing choices for food takeout, businesses are looking to reusable container services and programs that help both them and their patrons feel better about the environmental impacts they make with their choices.

Reusable Container Services and Takeout Container Programs to the Rescue

Here at Dishcraft, we are helping the food service industry understand how important reusable container services are to the world’s efforts for sustainability and environmental impacts. While we began as a service that provided dishwashing services (think “linen service” with dishes) to corporate cafeterias and hotels, our definition of reusable foodware expanded during COVID.

During the pandemic, with in-house dining almost non-existent, the need for our reusable takeout container program arose as customers faced the competing needs of providing takeout services for their on-campus staff while adhering to their sustainability goals, not to mention addressing their growing waste streams. These converging challenges brought the opportunity to the forefront.

Our reusable container service provides a constant inventory of reusable, clean, ready-to-use containers and utensils that are picked up, washed, and sanitized, and then redelivered to company locations. The service takes both dishwashing and ordering of ongoing stock of single-use wares out of the equation, allowing food service operations to instead focus on food preparation and customer service.

And the good news is our customers are now seeing their sustainability needs met, with a 75% or greater decrease in waste realized when using our reusable takeout containers. In addition, the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that our customers are achieving by making the switch to reusable containers is helping them see the service’s many benefits.

At Dishcraft, we are trying to not only help lead the revolution as a reusable container service but also to educate companies, food services organizations, and consumers who may be confused about challenges that still remain in recycling, and in biodegradable and compostable designations. 

To learn more about Dishcraft and our reusable takeout container program or dishwashing services, get in touch with us here.

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