State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Opinion: We Must End the Relentless Distribution of Condiment Packets

condiment packets
Photo: Stowe Boyd

Peering into the delivery bag, I am confronted by an onslaught of single-use condiment packets. Comprised more of trash than actual product, these packets provide a mere morsel of flavor alongside a heaping portion of annoyance — in my opinion, at least.

From soy sauce to hot sauce packets, dozens of these wasteful objects seem to be delivered without rhyme or reason alongside every genre of food these days.

As someone who cares deeply about sustainability, I have grown to despise condiment packets. However, like most people who have food delivered, I cannot escape them.

They seem so small, yet they add up to a big problem. Greenpeace reports a shocking 855 billion single-use plastic packets are trashed globally every year. The wrappings are almost always made of plastic. These small packets cannot be recycled and end up entirely in landfills.

For a single hit of ketchup delight, greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming are generated at every stage of plastic packet production. And they take centuries to fully degrade. This means every single condiment packet ever consumed, including those thrown away unopened because we never requested them in the first place, remains with us in some form. Truly, they are relentlessly inescapable.

We may be able to break our addiction to single-use plastic with sustainable packaging innovation. Kraft Heinz aims to make packaging 100 percent recyclable, compostable, or reusable by 2025. Meanwhile, TerraCycle and Taco Bell recently launched a pilot to recycle hot sauce packets.

While these are steps in the right direction, they are overdue and don’t account for the industry’s stragglers. The fact is, single-use plastic condiment packets should be outlawed.

In New York City, single-use plastic bags were banned in March 2020 with the threat of fines. City officials also recently stopped restaurants pushing plastic straws on customers.

If single-use condiment packets are the next plastic relic put on the chopping block, the spirit of human ingenuity could forge a more sustainable path to consume tasty condiments.

Only then will we be able to enjoy takeout without the relentless presence of condiment packets.

Jeffrey Prosserman is a graduate student in Columbia University’s Sustainability Management program and founder and CEO of Voltpost, a company that retrofits lamp posts into electric vehicle chargers.

Views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Columbia Climate School, Earth Institute or Columbia University.

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1 year ago

Additionally, we should be able to NOT order packets. The default should be none, with the customer asking for them if needed. I take them home from my son’s home and empty the contents into big bottles, but then all the plastic….we’ll you know.

1 year ago

I like the condiment packets even keep them as collectables from trips around the world and sometimes even eat them(lol). also I love plastic bags as I use them for garbage. If they didn’t give them to me I would have to buy garbage bags.

Last edited 1 year ago by Freedom
10 months ago

Yes! I found this page because I am at a hotel that gives me several sealed condiment kits for my coffee. I just want one sugar packet, but to acquire it, I must open the kit and throw away everything else that is in it (several types of sugar free sweetener, a creamer packet, a napkin, etc.) What a waste! Plus, the hotel gives me Styrofoam cups for the coffee! What is this? 1975? It’s so odd. Why not just a regular ceramic mug? Such a waste.