In 2018, over 292 million tons of waste were generated in the U.S. It breaks down to almost 5 pounds per person, per day. Everyone needs to make an effort to reduce waste. It’s not just a problem for consumers. It’s something that hotels, restaurants, industrial companies, retailers, schools, government agencies, manufacturing plants, and consumers all need to work together to improve.

Some of the largest producers of waste include beverage companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi. They’re taking strides to make changes by using more recycled materials in their bottles. What about restaurants, though? Plastic straws, plastic lids, foam coffee cups, plastic drink cups, plastic utensils, and food waste are all problems. Are any restaurants taking steps to help reduce recycling?

Taco Bell and Plastic Sauce Packets

Sauce packets are a big part of the Taco Bell experience. Tacos, nachos, and many other dishes need their dose of salsa or hot sauce. Those little plastic packets are a mix of polyethylene and aluminum and aren’t recycled, and Taco Bell says it gives out around eight billion of those packets every year.

Taco Bell announced a new recycling program that the company hopes to implement by 2024. Instead of having these packets thrown away, consumers can recycle the packets for recycling. It’s likely that the consumers will collect these packets and send them postage-paid for recycling, but full details are still forthcoming as the pilot program launches later this year.

Do you have unopened sauce packets from Taco Bell? People sell them on sites like eBay and make money doing so. If you have a lot of packets lying around, you may want to see if there’s an interested buyer.

Panera Aims for Zero Waste

Panera does everything it can to reduce waste. When you eat in the store, the plates and cutlery are reusable. Some locations use plates and bowls made from materials that are harder to break, which makes them a very durable choice for heavy use. After eating, you bring your plates and bowls to the collection point. From there, they’re collected, washed, and sterilized for reuse. The restaurant also works with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition to come up with environmentally-friendly packaging.

When you get takeout meals from Panera, the bowls are made from compostable grains. The company still has some improvements in the works. For now, the salad containers are recyclable PET. Cups for cold beverages are also recyclable and made from polypropylene.

Chipotle Even Chooses Recyclable Gloves

One thing consumers don’t always think about is the amount of waste in food preparation. Food safety codes often require kitchen staff to wear gloves. Each time a new food is sliced, a new set of gloves is required. Workers who are preparing meat must change gloves before cutting vegetables. It’s easy to go through a dozen sets of gloves per shift in many cases.

Those vinyl gloves are not environmentally friendly. To help reduce this waste, Chipotle started using low-density polyethylene gloves in approximately a quarter of the Nation’s restaurants. Those gloves can be recycled and turned into new plastic bags.

That’s not the only step this popular restaurant takes. The burrito bowls use plant-based materials to ensure they are compostable.

Applebees Uses Recycled Products

Part of recycling involves making sure your plastic, paper, metal, and glass items end up in the recycling instead of the trash. Purchasing items made from recycled materials is just as important. Applebees does that. When you get takeout from Applebees, you get to-go containers that are made from recycled plastic.

IHOP Switched to 100% Recycling Packaging

For years, IHOP used polystyrene packaging for its takeout orders. The company is taking steps to eliminate any polystyrene packaging and switch to 100% recyclable takeout containers.

Cooking oil used for any fried foods like chicken tenders and fries is another problem the restaurant faces. To keep the oil from landfills, used cooking oil is recycled.

Fast Food Giants Use Recyclable Packaging

Burger King and McDonald’s are two of the most prominent fast-food restaurants. They both use paper and cardboard products that can be recycled. McDonald’s uses packaging that’s made from recycled materials, too. In addition, some McDonald’s offer customers paper straws that are compostable instead of plastic straws.

Chick-Fil-A cups are fully recyclable. That’s one of the company’s environmentally-friendly steps, but there’s another. The employees’ t-shirts are even made from recycled materials.

KFC Canada did a test of bamboo packaging and utensils that went so well the Canadian restaurants want to make it a permanent feature. U.S. restaurants aren’t far behind. The company’s goals are to switch to fiber-based packaging in every location by 2025.

Carefully Consider Your Pizza Boxes

Pizza restaurants like Domino’s, Little Caesars, Papa Johns, and Pizza Hut offer recyclable cardboard boxes. Before you recycle them, check your local rules. Some recycling facilities do not accept cardboard boxes with grease stains. If that’s the case in your region, you might be able to tear off and recycle the top if it isn’t stained, but the rest has to go in the trash.

If you have a backyard composter, you can compost your pizza boxes. Break the boxes into smaller pieces first. In areas where backyard burning is allowed, use the boxes to light outdoor fire pits.

The Rise of Zero-Waste Restaurants

It’s hard for some restaurants to go completely zero-waste, but New York City’s Rhodora is proving successful. The goal of this tapas bar has been to create no waste from cooking and serving to eating and cleaning up. Any leftovers are composted on-site and used in the restaurant’s sidewalk gardens and at nearby Brooklyn Grange. Non-compostable items that are left behind by diners go to a recycling firm that specializes in other recyclables.

Keep Doing Your Part

Consumers can do their part by frequenting restaurants that strive to reduce waste. If there are restaurants that don’t, talk to their management to see if changes are being considered. If not, avoid that business until they do or learn how to work with what they offer.

If that’s not possible, take steps to reduce waste by refusing the restaurant’s plastic utensils or napkins. Ask if they sell drinks in family-size bottles instead of having several cups with plastic lids. Don’t take a straw. Carry your own reusable straws instead. Purchase reusable straws online or in many local retailers. Look specifically for sets that include a brush for cleaning them out.

Recycle as much of your food packaging as you can. Compost any napkins and paper bags in your backyard compost piles or bins. You can compost pizza boxes, cardboard wrap, and cardboard containers along with your food scraps.

If you have plastic bags, save them for the plastic bag recycling bins found in some grocery stores and box store entrances. They have to be clean and dry in order to be accepted for recycling. You’ll find a list of nearby locations at

Are you new to composting food scraps? Most food waste can be composted for flower gardens and trees. If you’re using your compost for a food garden, keep meats out of the compost unless you first burn them and smash them into small parts.

You may not realize just how many items you can recycle in your community. Recycle Nation has a convenient directory that searches for your nearest recycling center by item and ZIP code. It’s easy to find the best ways to recycle plastics using this tool.