If you’re reading this while eating lunch, chances are that you’re eating a takeaway sandwich or, if you’re feeling particularly unhealthy, fast food. But you’re not alone. According to Hubbub, workers are buying more takeaway and fast food lunches than ever before, generating over 10.7bn items of packaging waste every year.

“Lunch-on-the-go” items create huge levels of waste and unfortunately much of this isn’t recyclable as it’s made from mixed materials or isn’t recycled due to contamination from food residue,” says Trewin Restorick, Chief Executive of Hubbub.

Taken with the increase in evening takeaways, the world now produces over 78 million tonnes of plastic packaging, of which just 14% is recycled1. Clearly there’s a lot of work to be done in the takeaway food sector to reduce the environmental impact of its packaging. But there are projects, initiatives and new packaging designs that aim to make a difference. Here are just four:

Do you want seaweed with that?

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Online food delivery company Just Eat has been testing a brand new takeaway box lined with seaweed. Combined with cardboard containers made with tree and grass pulp, the lining makes the box greaseproof and water-resistant, allowing customers to enjoy their takeaway without generating plastic waste.

The box has been created by packaging company Notpla, who have previously worked with Just Eat by using seaweed-based sauce sachets in a variety of restaurants. So far, the two trials have stopped over 3,600 plastic boxes and over 46,000 plastic sachets from entering the waste stream.

“Over half a billion plastic boxes are used across the takeaway industry every year and we know that eventually, they end up in landfill,” says Andrew Kenny, Managing Director of Just Eat UK. “This is why we’ve been working closely with Notpla to create an innovative alternative that’s recyclable, home-compostable and degrades in a matter of weeks.”

Finger-lickin’ good

The fast food industry generates a huge amount of paper waste, from packaging and napkins to receipts and placemats. Of course, a large proportion of that waste is recycled but this relies on customers putting it in the dedicated recycling bin. To cut down on the amount of unrecycled paper, KFC came up with a novel solution.

The takeaway giant created a campaign in the Middle East called ‘KFC Napkinized’, which changed the way all their paper was produced, making it from the same type of eco-friendly tissue paper. Menus, food, bags, posters, flyers and even the receipts suddenly became absorbent, allowing customers to use them as napkins. The campaign was so successful in Dubai that it was rolled out to KFC restaurants across the UAE and Lebanon.

Plastic-free food packaging

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In response to a huge demand for environmentally friendly, sustainable and recyclable packaging, Stora Enso have developed two barrier materials that can be used to produce plastic-free paperboard for food packaging. The materials, Aqua and Aqua+, are both grease-resistant, with Aqua+ also being liquid-resistant, making it suitable for paper cups.

“The new barriers are aimed at retailers and brand owners who want to improve the recyclability of their food packaging to meet the demands of eco-conscious consumers,” says Ebba Mannheimer, Head of Business, New Barrier Solutions, Division Packaging Materials at Stora Enso. “The materials are suitable for paper cups, ice cream packaging and fast, frozen and dry food packaging.”

Portion-controlled pasta packaging

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Judging the right amount of pasta for a certain amount of people has always presented a problem in the kitchen. There can’t be many who haven’t put far too much pasta in the pan, wasting both food and energy. Now there’s pasta packaging that will enable chefs to prepare as much or as little pasta as they need.

Designer Alesia Lurtcevich created a rectangular box made up of six sections that each holds a single serving of pasta. The cardboard box also features a number of pull tabs that allows you to take out the right amount of pasta according to the amount of servings you need – the perfect demonstration of how packaging design can solve a perennial problem.

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1The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics & catalysing action, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017

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