Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Sustainable Options for Restaurant To-Go Containers

Restaurants provide to-go or take-out containers as part of their business. Most of them currently offer polystyrene (commonly known as styrofoam) containers because it is the type that is lowest in price - not the least expensive if we take into account negative externalities, but that will have to be the topic of another article.

Some restaurants are starting to look for more sustainable options to those disposable containers that are normally used once and then sent to the landfill - or worse, they end up as litter in our streets and oceans.

An easy first step for those restaurants would be to purchase to-go containers made of sustainable materials. I would recommend staying away from plastic, though - even the "renewable source" kind. Even though the production process of those containers should be better than conventional plastic containers, their fate would be similar to their conventional counterparts - unless customers have access to composting services that would be able to process those kinds of material,  which for us in Brevard is not much of an option right now.

So, a better option would be recycled paper/cardboard or aluminum. Those are non-petroleum base materials and, when not soiled, they can be recycled.

Eco-friendly alternatives cost a bit more for the restaurants, but are a better option for the health of their customers and the environment.

Now, if restaurants are open to take a step further, they could implement an even better solution: give incentives for customers who bring their own container - a coupon or a nominal discount - and offer their own branded (preferably non-plastic) reusable containers for a price. This could eliminate the need for purchasing disposable to-go containers all together, reduce waste, and increase loyalty. A total win!
For the latter solution, it may be worth considering not to sell those as an optional, separate item; maybe trying to make it work like a deposit would be a better option, i.e. add the container cost into the price of the take-out order and if the container is brought back to be used with their next order, no charge for the container would be applied, and a loyalty discount would be offered instead as a reward for customer loyalty and eco-consciousness.

Perhaps a combination of the above options would be a great compromise, but, we believe, moving towards implementing a "reusable containers only" policy should be the goal.

And this is already a reality in some colleges and universities around the world!

We were pleased to find out that some colleges and universities have already incorporated reuse to-go containers into their business model.

Some offer discounts, others make the price of reusable containers lower than disposable ones to get students to buy in. They take back containers to sanitize them and put back to use. They also offer replacement for broken ones.

This shows that if we want to change, there are viable alternatives that will not compromise our convenience or safety but will have a significant positive impact on the environment.

Why not give existing solutions a try or even start a new trend that makes more sense to your business?

We hope you do.



Sources:
The Green Doggy Bag: Eco-Friendly Restaurant Take-Out Containers
https://www.rewardsnetwork.com/blog/green-doggy-bag-eco-friendly-restaurant-take-containers/

From Campus to Community: Systems for Reusable To-Go Coffee Cups
https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/circular-design/ideas/from-campus-to-community-systems-for-reusable-to-go-containers

A Guide to Setting Up To-Go Container Programs on Your Campus
http://www.postlandfill.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/togoguide.pdf

OZZI "Changing the world from disposable to reuseable one meal at a time

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=86&v=qK7eGdffiaM

GO Box saves 50,000 disposable to-go containers!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bON3lX9Bvqk