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UC Climate Lab video: Take out the food. Leave the trash. Save the planet.

Find out how to reduce carbon emissions by rethinking takeout food in this newest episode of UC’s innovative video series Climate Lab.


You’ve probably opened a package lately and wondered why your tiny purchase was sent in a giant box wrapped in multiple layers of plastic bubbles. But have you considered the sandwich, salad or burrito you grabbed for lunch? Take a look at what you bring back to your desk: How much of it is food you’ll be eating and how much of it is packaging?

In its newest episode, UC’s innovative video series Climate Lab explains how each of us can reduce the enormous amount of trash that takeout food creates: plastic or paper bags, plastic containers or cardboard boxes, wrappers, napkins, utensils, packets of condiments and more. Do you really need all of that stuff? The restaurant may not ask you, and you may be too rushed to say anything.

Some of these items can be recycled and composted, but those processes also consume resources. And some take-out items, such as plastic packets of condiments, can only end up in the landfill. Bad enough if you want what’s in them, but often we throw them away unused.

Product packaging alone accounts for nearly 30 percent of all waste generated in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Manufacturing and transporting these materials also creates greenhouse gas emissions. It all adds up to a large impact on the environment.

Here at UC, our Zero Waste initiative and campaigns such as #MyLastTrash raise awareness and provide easy onsite solutions. And we’re having great success: UC Irvine now diverts 80 percent of its trash from landfill. UC Merced offers reusable containers for the one-third of its campus meals that are taken to-go. Here at OP, we provide separate containers where you can easily drop off items to recycle or compost.

We can all reduce what we discard. Here are a few quick ideas you can try out at work:

  • When buying takeout, ask the restaurant to leave out anything you don’t need, such as extra packaging, condiments, napkins or their promotional items. Decline a bag; bring your own if you need one.
  • If your cafeteria offers plates or packaging that can be washed and re-used, choose those over disposables.
  • Bring reusable utensils from home to eat your lunch, rather than using plastic ones.
  • Bring your own cup when buying beverages.
  • Get takeout only from businesses that use recyclable or (better yet) compostable materials.
  • Give your favorite takeout places feedback in person or by email that you love their food but want less trash or more environmentally friendly packaging.
  • Take only as many napkins and condiments as you’ll use that day. (Avoid hoarding extras in your desk that you may never use.)
  • And if all else fails…bring food from home in reusable containers!


Read more about the environmental impact of food packaging in this Vox article.

Catch up any videos you missed on the Climate Lab website.

Read about UC’s Carbon Neutrality Initiative.

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