Can You Recycle or Reuse Plastic Takeaway Containers?

Wondering what to do with all those leftover plastic containers from your Saturday night takeaway? We’ll tell you whether you can reuse and recycle such containers, as well as what’s a better alternative for totally guilt-free takeaways.

Can You Reuse Plastic Takeaway Containers? 

If you’re the sort of person who likes to get the most for their money or likes to reduce waste from an environmental standpoint, you’ll be wondering what you can do with those plastic containers and lids that so often make their way into our household. 

It’s the morning after the day before and you’re tackling last night’s mess. 

Somehow you’ve amassed four or five plastic containers complete with lids. They seem perfect for boxing up leftovers and other snacks lying around your house. But is it safe to use them? 

It all depends on the type of plastic. 

Some plastic containers have a recycling symbol on their base and a number indicating which type of plastic it’s made from. If your container has this, you’ll be able to do some research to determine whether it’s indeed safe. 

If your container draws a blank, your best bet is to dispose of it. 

Some plastic containers can leach harmful chemicals into their contents. A great example of this is polyethene terephthalate (PET), which is one of the thinnest plastics commonly used for water bottles and salad boxes. There’s a good chance that the unknown material is PET since its the world’s most commonly used thermoplastic polymer

Anything that’s styrofoam also can’t be reused for risk of bacterial contamination. Since styrofoam is a foam, there is plenty of small spaces within the material to trap bacteria from food and the environment. 

As an eco-activist, it can be difficult to accept that all we can do is throw away some plastic items. Most of us immediately want to find some alternative use for such items to increase their lifecycle. However, the truth is that reusing plastic takeaway containers will do more harm than good and can directly impact your health. 

Can You Recycle Plastic Takeaway Containers? 

Since you can’t reuse plastic takeaway containers, what about recycling them? 

Again, it comes back to the recycling symbol and number indicator on the base of the product. Here’s what each one means:

NumberProductRecyclable?
1PET or PETEOnly curbside recycling programs will take these, so long as they’re rinsed and clean of any food. Do not throw in general recycling.
2HDPETakeaway containers in this form can be recycled through curbside recycling programs. Film and thinner products can’t be.
3PVC or VIt’s unlikely that this plastic-type can be recycled. That said, it’s always worth checking with your local council. 
4LDPEThis material isn’t widely recycled unless the store does a return program or your local council has a specialist facility. 
5PPLike PET, these containers can be recycled through curbside recycling programs. Do not throw in general recycling. 
6PSIt’s unlikely that this plastic-type can be recycled. It can be difficult to dispose of since it’s a foam product. 
7MiscellaneousIt’s unlikely that these plastic types are recycled since they have a broad classification. This numbering might refer to plastic film present on takeaways or a small portion of the packaging. 

So, not all plastics are created equal. 

However, they all require some additional effort to recycle in that they need to be entered into a specific recycling program instead of tossed with general recycling waste. 

These guys don’t belong with your flattened cardboard boxes. 

If you want to recycle plastic takeaway containers, make sure they are thoroughly rinsed to remove any food or residue. This is a must for recycling facilities who may fail to accept your items if dirty. Recycle Now suggests using the remains of your soapy dishwater to clean items before disposal, as well as removing any cardboard or paper sleeves. 

What’s a Good Plastic Takeaway Container Alternative? 

You might be thinking that fish and chips wrapped in paper or pizza served in cardboard is a much more environmentally-friendly way to eat takeout. 

Unfortunately, a lot of the time recycling facilities will reject such containers as a result of potential contamination. 

Contamination refers to lasting residue like grease on the material that interferes with the recycling process. Instead, truly recyclable takeaways need to be made from durable materials that are either similar to plastic or lined with a coating, allowing us to wipe away any leftovers.

As a consumer, you’ll need to be more vigilant about which takeaways are recyclable. If you’re a takeaway provider, you’ll need to change the way you package your food. 

Looking for a good alternative? 

We serve some of the biggest names in the British takeaway industry. They use our products because they’re designed to be guilt-free. You can choose from both hot food containers and cold food containers that use a range of sustainable materials, all accepted by recycling facilities. Materials such as PLA bioplastic give you all the benefits of plastic — durability, transparency, versatility — without actually being plastic. We also sell tougher versions of cardboard such as unbleached Kraft board and foam container alternatives like bagasse. 


Shop our eco-friendly food packaging now with free next-day delivery on orders over £100.