A Guide to Takeout Container Materials

Paper takeout containers are a relatively environmentally friendly option, making them a great choice for more than just Chinese restaurants.

Takeout food is a huge market. From restaurants taking orders to-go to supermarkets selling pre-prepared meals, food on the go is slowly taking up a bigger and bigger portion of the food industry. All restaurants should also offer customers the option to take home any unfinished food, and therefore, there is good reason for almost any food business to keep takeout containers on hand. Each year, different styles and types of these containers are developed, with the most commonly seen materials being Styrofoam, paper, plastic, or aluminum foil. Businesses should choose which containers to purchase based on price, food, and environmental concerns.


Styrofoam containers are a classic option for takeout joints. Styrofoam is made of a plastic called polystyrene, incorporated with about 95% air. There are many environmental concerns associated with Styrofoam due to its production using nonrenewable energy sources and its non-biodegradability. On the other hand, Styrofoam products are inexpensive, stackable, and lightweight. They remain cool to the touch, no matter how hot the contents, making them a great option for packing hot soup and stews. However, food stored in Styrofoam containers can become soggy, presenting a problem when packaging fried foods, hot sandwiches, and other dishes which become lower quality with moisture.

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Storage Containers Buying Guide

Glass containers are often preferable over plastic, due to health and environmental concerns.There are many types of food storage containers out there and materials from which they are made. The right option for a food business is usually to have a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and materials on hand, to meet the changing demands daily. However, environmental and health concerns associated with plastic materials should be considered as well.

Types of Material

First, let’s take a look at the types of material available: plastic, glass, stainless steel, and aluminum are all available options, but glass and plastic are probably the most common, so we will focus on those. Plastic raises many concerns for environmentalists and the health-conscious alike. Not only are many types of plastic non-biodegradable, some can also release harmful chemicals into foods. Even those containers with “microwave-safe” labels doesn’t mean that it is 100% free of these harmful materials. Plastic can have astonishing effects on the environment. According to a 2012 survey by the Environmental Protection Agency, 32 million tons of plastic waste were generated that year, with only 9% recovered for recycling. Plastic products are usually labeled with a number between one and seven, which symbolizes the resin with which the plastic was made. Among the types used, PET and HDPE, or numbers 1 and 2, are the most commonly recycled. However, surveys show that the recycling rate is relatively low, posing a threat to the environment. “Green” food businesses should recycle plastic waste, but in terms of food storage containers, they may want to consider minimizing the amount of plastic used, especially in take-away meals.  (…Read More…)