Date of Award

Fall 12-16-2022

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Ecology and Environmental Sciences


Cynthia Isenhour

Second Committee Member

Sharon Klein

Third Committee Member

Travis Blackmer

Additional Committee Members

Susanne Lee


Since the emergence of plastic over 100 years ago, businesses have increasingly relied on them to protect products. While convenient, the proliferation of plastic packaging is a major contributor to pollutants in the soil, oceans, and bodies of humans and animals alike. Goals in states like Maine seek to reduce the amount of waste and alleviate these issues. However, the deeply embedded popularity of disposable packaging and lack of reliable waste processing capabilities has caused Maine to fall short of its goals. While solutions need to focus on reducing the amount of packaging entering the economy, most businesses rely on substitutes for plastic rather than waste reduction. On its face, biodegradable substitutes for plastic appear to be a good solution. However, lifecycle assessments of these materials indicate that their environmental impact is similar to traditional plastics. Further, studies suggest that biodegradable packaging can leave behind contaminants after they decompose. Thus, strategies like reuse, that focus on reducing the amount of waste, are preferable to material substitution. Compared to other sectors, the restaurant industry is just beginning to explore reuse as a solution to waste issues. In particular, the recent explosion in the popularity of takeout and delivery food makes the restaurant industry an impactful area of study. In this thesis, I explore reusable takeout packaging in the restaurant industry and the factors that influence the adoption of these systems. Chapter One presents a review of literature focused on reusable packaging in the restaurant industry. Reuse systems were examined through the lens of four major identifiable themes: environmental impact, economic success, social behavior, and operational logistics. As will be seen, success of reusable programs largely depends on how these four factors interplay with each other within a given business environment. Chapter Two investigate the factors that make single-use packaging so durable in our society and what social aspects prevent a switch towards reusable packaging. While reusable packaging can provide many benefits, there are numerous social barriers that cause single-use packaging to continue its dominance. This chapter explores these barriers and presents the findings of stakeholder engaged research that was conducted as part of this project. Chapter Three presents the findings of a waste audit conducted in the town of Bar Harbor, ME. This short chapter helps contextualize the findings from the previous chapters and provides a baseline for understanding the barriers and opportunities for reusable packaging systems in Maine’s coastal communities. Chapter Four pulls the learnings from the previous three chapters into a cohesive business plan. While every detail of this chapter is meant to be actionable, the plan itself is intended only as a framework for a business that provides reusable packaging logistics in Maine. This chapter goes through the entire process of starting a business and identifies viable locations, potential risks, marketing strategy, and explores the financial considerations involved in starting such an organization. Finally, Chapter 5 takes note of the key findings from this paper and suggests areas where future research can improve on this work.