Retailer Packaging Resource

recycling guide

Best Takeout Packaging and Single-Use Ware Practices for Portland Businesses

The City of Portland has set the goal to  achieve “zero waste” (90% waste diverted from waste stream) citywide by 2050. This will require smarter production, consumption, and material reuse by residents, businesses, and the City. We know that many restaurants and businesses support this goal and try to choose environmentally friendly products whenever they can. Unfortunately, suppliers sometimes market products to restaurants as “compostable” or “recyclable” when they may, in fact, be contaminants in the facilities that handle Portland’s recyclables and compost.  Consequently,  well intentioned business owners end up spending extra money to do the right thing and don’t achieve the intended result.  Establishments can support the City’s waste reduction goals and perhaps save money by stocking takeout containers and single-use ware that our recycling organization, ecomaine, can process.

Here are some ecomaine-approved tips for purchasing takeout packaging and single-use ware for your business. 

Use and/or distribution of these items is prohibited by either the City of Portland or the State of Maine:

  • Styrofoam/Polystyrene Foam (Portland and State of Maine Polystyrene Foam Ban)
  • Plastic straws  (Portland Straw Ordinance)
  • Biodegradable/Compostable/Bioplastic straws,  including straws made of agave, grain husks/hull, and other natural materials made into a PLA or PHA Bioplastic (Portland Straw Ordinance)
  • Plastic bags (State of Maine Bag Ban)
  • Bioplastic bags (State of Maine Bag Ban)

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These are items that the Sustainability Office strongly discourages because our recycling and/or composting services cannot handle them:

  • “Biodegradable”/“Compostable” plastic containers, plates, and utensils
  • Food waste collected in the City’s drop off composting program becomes MOFGA certified compost. “Compostable” plastics are considered contaminants and threaten the composting company’s certification.  These products may be OK for a dine-in establishment as long as the business provides proper receptacles for disposal and contracts with for an appropriate waste management service.
  • Plasticware that is not labeled #1-7 or is not a rigid container

These plastics are often improperly disposed of by residents and put in the recycling instead of the trash. ecomaine only accepts plasticware that is #1-7, rigid, and a container. If the product does not fit all three of these requirements, it cannot be recycled. Common items that cannot be recycled by ecomaine include plastic coffee lids and plastic utensils.

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We encourage the use of the following materials

Recyclable

  • paper
  • cardboard
  • cartons/other pulp-based products
  • metal
  • glass
  • rigid containers made of plastics #1-7 (*** In general, plastics are best avoided. However, if plastics are unavoidable these are the only recyclable plastics.)

Compostable

  • wood
  • food items (i.e. bowls made out of melons, taco bowls, etc.)

Other

  • reusable materials (non-single use) implemented through a borrowing or “bring your own” (BYO) program
  • locally sourced materials that fall into the above categories

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BEST PRACTICES

  • Provide the proper disposal receptacles in your business (Trash, Recycle, Compost) with clearly labeled signs that have photos of the takeout packaging and single-use ware you provide above the proper bin. (ecomaine provides customizable signage on their website.) Make sure to also check with your hauling service to ensure each waste stream is hauled separately and is treated appropriately.
  • Inform customers of common misconceptions about your takeout packaging and single-use ware (e.g. if you have a product that you know is commonly wish-cycled, let customers know that it actually cannot be recycled and should be thrown away).
  • With all takeout packaging and single-use ware, ask customers if they want/need the product instead of automatically providing it. 
  • Try to eliminate any unnecessary packaging, such as excessive bags, napkins, utensils, or condiments.
  • Create a program that encourages customers to BYO (bring your own) takeout container or implement a borrowing program where customers can borrow a reusable product and return it after use. This is the most effective way to become a zero-waste restaurant or business. BYO programs work great for to-go coffee, to-go bags, and to-go containers for leftovers. Borrowing programs work great for businesses that have outdoor spaces nearby where customers enjoy their food.

Thanks for supporting the City’s sustainability efforts.  Please let us know if you have any questions.