Egregious Packaging Hall of Fame: Fast Food Restaurants That Defy Waste with Savvy, Sustainable Packaging

by , 11/06/11

Subway is now one of the world’s largest chain restaurants, with over 35,000 locations around the world, and so that means its packaging choices make a difference. Subway wraps its hot and cold sammies in paper embossed with the company’s logo, and they often come in paper bags, though I have also had my sandwich put in clear plastic bags (which look like oversized vegetable bags from the supermarket) or white plastic bags with handles – those usually when I’m on a roadtrip and in the middle of nowhere for some reason. These weird bags are too small to be reusable for most things and weirdly shaped so stuff can’t be stacked in them well – they are the one fail that I’ve noticed when it comes to the Milford, CT-based footlong chain.

Napkins are made of recycled, unbleached paper, and styrofoam was phased out in 2007. I think that Subway has room for improvement with its packaging (it would be great if they would ask you if you even need a bag, which if you are walking 5 feet away to eat the sandwich, you definitely don’t), but overall is doing a good job of keeping it simple and focusing on the food. Subway also has a number of green buildings, which shows real corporate support of greener initiatives. According to Subway’s site: “Today, the majority of the packaging used in our restaurants in North America is made with recycled content and 100% can be recycled or composted (where facilities exist). We are in the process of moving to these packaging specifications globally.”

Subway is justifiably proud of its minimal packaging, and likes to play those efforts up when it gest a chance. They’ve done all sorts of wacky things, including commissioning a dress made from subway lunchboxes and cookie bags for a Project Subway fashion show in Chicago.

Honorable mentions go to Argo tea, a small but growing chain of tea-focused shops that also feature very healthy mixed salads and sandwiches, all of which are packaged with thoughtful, low-resource containers, like compostable oval boxes for the salads and simple wraps on the sandwiches. I’ve reached out to them several times, but they have never gotten back to me with more information, unfortunately.

Starre Vartan is founder and editor-in-chief of Eco-Chick and author of The Eco-Chick Guide to Life (St. Martin’s Press). A green living expert, she contributes to The Huffington Post and Mother Nature Network (

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