Using compostable takeaway packaging during COVID-19

As we write this we see many food businesses struggling to cope and thinking of ways to keep going in these difficult times, with many looking to provide takeaway and delivery options.

We know you still care about the environment and want to keep aligned to those values. So here are some tips on providing sustainable packaging and ways to save you money to help your bottom line.

While reusables are the best option and there is no evidence to suggest that they are any less safe to use than disposables, we understand that businesses may want disposable options, so here we'll focus only on compostables. However please do consider reusables - refer to our companion guide to using reusable foodware during Covid-19.

Takeaway containers

● For food taken home, home compostable packaging is the best option as this can be placed in backyard composting. Look for 100% home compostable packaging made of bagasse (sugarcane), paper or cardboard - ensure the latter two aren’t lined with plastic or bioplastic though. As a second preference, choose items that are commercially compostable (like bioplastics), though these cannot be composted at home.

● If your food is hot or likely to leak - bagasse (sugarcane pulp) is your best choice. It is leak-proof, freezer-proof, microwavable, home compostable and will keep your food hot. Ensure you check the fitting on the lids - bagasse lids are secured with tabs. If you need a better fitting lid, try a clear PLA bioplastic lid (look for the embossed symbol 7 and/or PLA). This will fit snuggly. Clear PLA does not like heat though, so if your food is steaming hot, you may have to use a plastic lid for safety. In this case, at least your container is sustainable. For soups, an alternative is a PLA lined bowl with a CPLA (heat resistant PLA) lid.

1.BioPak 750 ml cane base 2.BioPak cane lid 3.Biopak soup bowl/CPLA lid

● For food that is not wet, cardboard is an option. There are also cardboard containers with bioplastic lining available, which will allow for wet food (even hot food). They are not home compostable - so we prefer to avoid the lining and stick with bagasse.

1. BioPak board clamshell 2.Greenmark snackbox (unlined) 3.BioPak noodle box (lined)

Sauce containers and cutlery

For sauce containers, look for sugarcane options with a PLA bioplastic lid. Be careful not to accidentally order a plastic lid - again look for the 7/PLA symbols. Avoid single use sauce sachets, they are a waste. Order your sauce in bulk and decant into sugarcane options or directly onto the food.

● For cutlery, bamboo/ wood is the best option. Avoid PLA options if you can, they are not home compostable and particularly damaging in the environment if they are littered.

1.BioPak cane sauce cup/PLA lid 2.BioPak wood cutlery 3.Greenmark wood cutlery

Coffee cups and lids

● For coffee cups, look for PLA lined paper cup options and make sure your cup is compostable. For lids, choose a bagasse (sugarcane) or PLA lid. We prefer bagasse as it is home compostable.

Cold cups, lids and straws

● For cold cups and straws - look for compostable PLA lined paper cup options. Clear PLA cold cups are also available as the next best option. Match either of these with a PLA lid. For straws, wheat/rye or paper is a good option (today's good quality paper straws hold up well in drinks), but we suggest only including a straw when necessary.

1.BioPak 16oz PLA lined cup 2.BioPak matching flat PLA lid 3.Biopak paper straws

Reducing to save money and waste

Consider what you are giving out and whether it is needed. For e.g. most customers will be eating at home and will not need cutlery. Many businesses default to providing cutlery, but this is often just wasting resources. We suggest you have them on hand at the delivery point and only offer if requested or needed.

Rethink what you’re using to see where you can cut down. For e.g. are you using a snap top burger box when a paper bag will do? If someone needs cutlery - are you giving away whole cutlery sets when people only want a fork? You can cut down by considering whether your packaging is fit for purpose.

● If your item has a side sauce, you may be able to include the sauce container inside with the food, saving the need for a lid.

● Only offer bags and straws on request or where needed.

Sourcing products

Ensure the packaging you buy is certified compostable, preferably under the Australian Composting Standards (the AS 5810 for home compostable or the AS 4736 for commercially compostable). If not available, then look for European or US standards. If the products are not certified, there is no evidence that they are compostable.

In this guide we have used some products we like as as a reference, but there are a number of other good brands and products available, and you can source these through local distributors. Often it's a case of contacting yours and simply changing your products, using this as a guide. You can also order online with many major brands. Be careful though, there are many products out there that pose as 'green', but are in fact anything but. Always ensure you are purchasing 100% certified compostable.

Advice on managing takeaway packaging at home

By providing 100% compostable packaging you are doing the right thing - you are reducing your environmental footprint and using products not made from fossil fuels. The question is what is the best option for households when discarding that packaging? The best option is to put any home compostable packaging in their home compost. If they don't have one, this is a good chance to set one up. If not, then paper based (including bagasse) home compostable packaging can go in the recycling bin, provided it is clean of food. Anything commercially compostable (i.e. products containing PLA bioplastics) has to go into the garbage bin.

This is not an ideal situation, but changing our practices will take time. We need local authorities to provide a kerbside FOGO (Food Organics/ Garden Organics) collection service. This would solve the problem for compostable packaging taken home, as households could put all their organic waste into a collection bin that will be taken to a local compost facility. Such a service would reduce household waste to landfill by about 50%.

Further information on Covid-19 regulations

For specific Victoria guidelines and requirements:

For general advice:

For other states and territories:

This post was written by The Boomerang Alliance as part of their Plastic Free Places program, and is used in collaboration with Waste Wise Peninsula. The information is simply to help you identify products and services. We don't benefit commercially from any brands or products we list.