We were at a potluck last night, and came home with a lot of trash. Right now my kids are finishing the fruit that someone brought in a plastic tray.
If I didn't bring it home, the whole thing -- tray and fruit -- would end up in the landfill. This way, the fruit ends up eaten, and the plastic ends up in the recycling (and possibly actually reused!). But I feel alarmed by the plastic and other trash I brought home.
How do others deal with this? It's sort of damned if you do, damned if you don't.
Seems like you did the right thing.
Old Days: folks brought lots of casseroles, and platters prepared at home. Just put name on the bottom so it finds its way home. Rubber bands to hold lids in place, coolers, blankets, etc. made sure things were intact during travel.
"Now-a -Days" people are busy, and just pick up something at the store. if you're not hosting, I'm not sure what can be done, aside from setting an example, and rescuing the remains as you did. Big picture: may be better you than trusting others to reuse, recycle, etc.
If you're hosting, you get to set the rules.
OTOH, Locally, big gatherings around here are seriously getting into recycling and zero waste. There are even event organizers specializing in it!!
So... if potluck is an organization, or even friends, maybe you could try speaking to whomever is organizing, and at the very least set out appropriate bins and suggest a way to ZW package leftovers; also could help wash and return plastics to whomever brought them. Might make an impression, as would your setting an example.
I can see your frustration. It seems to me that this is just a symptom of a larger problem. Most people don't know how to cook anymore and those that do just don't have the time or energy to commit to it. Everyone works so hard at their jobs and come home to veg out in front of the TV with carryout. If only everyone could just downsize to work less and enjoy life more. So many people are wrapped up in the American consumerism keeping up with the Jones's spiral of waste...
I am a Girl Scout co-leader and a key adult camper for our troop. I volunteered to buy the food for a recent camping event with our troop. First time without parents. There were four of us adults involved. I really like and admire the other three ladies for different reasons (unique to each of them). I was in such a conundrum over that camping trip. My strengths are different than theirs, which makes us a good team, but we are all strong women, which makes it challenging to do things "different" without stepping on toes. Oy, the waste from that trip alone has me shuddering...even now, a month later...
Parties make me crazy with the waste. For me I have chickens so I always ask the host if I can take home the scraps to feed my chickens. They are always eager to hear about them and happy to give the scraps. Many want to pack in plastic bags, but I just use something already used and mix it up. Some of my friends have been reusing platters, not many but some. If I am the host. I minimize decorations. I do have a reusable banner that says Happy Birthday and one that says Congratulations. I put out all my plastic plates that can go in the dishwasher and have enough stainless forks. People may say that is too much work and I respond, "Better than centuries in the landfill and the dishwasher does the work." I cook and encourage items in crockpots. Easy and less or no waste.