Are Takeout Containers Recyclable?

Are Takeout Containers Recyclable?

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Friday, September 25, 2020 - 3:00pm

CAMPAIGN: Beyond the Blue


We love to order takeout food, especially nowadays with so many of us spending more time at home. But with all those orders come a lot of plastic bags, containers, utensils, etc. and not all of it can go into your recycling bin. 

Just because a takeout container has a recyclable symbol on it, don’t assume it's okay to recycle it. The acceptance of recyclable materials can vary from state to state and city to city. As a rule of thumb, the following materials are accepted no matter where you live: paper, cardboard, metal cans, and plastic containers labeled with a #1 or #2.

Here’s how you can determine if a takeout container and/or utensils can be recycled or composted.

The Good: To start, look for the recycling symbol. If it’s a plastic container labeled #1 or #2, you can recycle it. Cardboard drink carriers and those paper sleeves for hot drinks are also great for recycling. And aluminum, like cans and clean tins, are one of the best recyclable items that exist, so always place in your recycling bin as long as it's empty, clean, and dry.

The Bad: Not all takeout items are created equal. A cardboard pizza box isn’t fully recyclable. If the whole box is soiled with grease and cheese, it needs to be thrown out or tossed into the compost bin (where available). But, if half the pizza box is clean you can tear it in half, recycle the clean half, and either trash or compost the dirty part. Paper napkins, paper towels, and plant-based cutlery are suitable for composting but should never be tossed in with the recyclables.

The Ugly: Foam containers, plastic utensils, condiment packets, and the plastic bag. None of these can go into your recycling bin. Try to skip these items and materials in your next order and you can drastically cut down on the amount of trash you make. Those brown, red, and white paper takeout containers aren’t recyclable either. The special coating that makes the paper “waterproof “so your Chow Mein doesn’t leak all over the place renders the paper unrecyclable.

Check out our infographic for more details about how to handle your takeout containers. And visit for more tips.