Photo courtesy of shipping goods
Andrea Arria-Devoe, a longtime editor at Daily Candy, is an executive producer Straws, a documentary on how discarding plastic straws can significantly affect the environment. She is also on the executive advisory board of the Coalition for Plastic Pollution. In her goop column, Arria-Devoe explores everything from desktop composting and mass shopping to environmental justice and shading.
Ordering has always been a struggle for me. Before a pandemic, I almost always opted to cook a meal or dinner at a restaurant so I could eat on the right plates with the right silverware. If I had ordered, it would have been from a place I knew had accepted responsible packaging to compensate for any disposable plastic panic attacks. But after almost a year of cooking (and cleaning) three meals a day for a family of four, I felt completely burned out in my kitchen commitments. Not to mention how conflicted I feel about my desire to support struggling restaurants.
After a recent move to New York, I discovered DeliverZero, a network platform that allows customers to deliver food from restaurants in reusable containers. You then return the containers directly to the courier on your next order or schedule a visit to a partner restaurant. Being able to enjoy Indian or Chinese dishes and supporting a local company without remorse changed the game.
The timeliness and need for reuse cannot be underestimated. Before the pandemic, an estimate 561 billion pieces of disposable food they were used every year only in the United States. (This includes pots and lids, coffee cups, cutlery, napkins, disposable spices like ketchup and mustard, straws, those plastic coffee sticks that you put in a disposable cup, and plastic bags.) Stay tuned. Home orders and orders that restaurants may only offer delivery and delivery have exacerbated the plastic pollution crisis created by the broken recycling system. According to the EPA, only 8.5 percent of all plastic waste is recycled. The devaluation of oil makes this figure even lower because the use of virgin plastic is much cheaper than the use of recycled materials. And with the delivery of online restaurants, it is expected to accept around 77 million dollars in the next four years Wall Street Journal, the waste it will create is staggering.
Statistics aside, look no further than having your local trash can flooded with disposable cups, straws and water bottles to understand the extent of the problem. GoBox, a Portland-based reusable container system, was created to combat the excessive garbage created by the city’s noisy food truck scene ten years ago. Customers choose a monthly or annual membership subscription that allows them to borrow a certain number of reuses at once. Similar services exist in other cities that think ahead with slightly different business models (see box below). What they share is a mission to liberate a rejected culture and help redirect businesses and individuals toward a circular economy that values materials, collaboration, and partnership.
Although COVID-19 dealt a blow to citizens accustomed to bringing their own cups for the coffee-free route, it gave start-ups like Vesselworks a chance to step in to solve the disposable cup problem. (Paper cups cannot be recycled due to the thin plastic lining inside, meaning 58 billion a year ends up in landfills.) With locations in Boulder and Berkeley, the nonprofit runs a free reusable cup-sharing program. As with books from the library, users check a stainless steel container insulated with a double wall in the participating cafes and restaurants, and then have five days to return it to the restaurant or kiosk. Vessels are being restored after sanitation in a health-certified facility.
So what if you don’t live in a city that has access to reusable services? You can still advocate for less unnecessary waste when ordering food.
Campaigns like waste habits #CutOutCutlery i Reusable LA #SkiptheStuff has successfully persuaded UberEats and Postmates to change their delivery apps so that dishes are only provided on request. GrubHub will join the effort in the coming months. Postmates reports that since joining the campaign in October 2019, it has saved 122 million packs of plastic cutlery from entering the waste stream, which is equivalent to saving $ 3.2 million for restaurants. Waste habits require citizens to sign a petition encouraging other major delivery platforms to do the same. The organization, along with reusable LA, celebrated the victory in early March when the Los Angeles City Council unanimously adopted a proposal to make plastic disposable cutlery and utensils available on request only. Habits of Waste also recently presented the idea of choosing dishes to senators and members of the California and New York state assemblies in hopes of turning #CutOutCutlery into an account.
In addition, applications like Jybe help connect conscious consumers with food suppliers who are committed to sustainable packaging practices. Users rate and inspect the restaurant’s finished packaging by providing a photo and details such as the use of styrofoam or a composting tank. If a restaurant has a low rating, Jybe offers restaurant advisory services seeking guidance on how to make better packaging choices. It is now available in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Austin, Boulder and Denver.
And lastly, don’t be afraid to speak up. Tell your favorite restaurants (politely) that you don’t need or want disposable plastic bags, straws, utensils, or spices with your order. Better yet, introduce them to a service that offers reusable containers.
Start-ups that offer reusable containers
Currently available throughout San Francisco, this waste-free container service provides restaurant meals in stainless steel containers inspired by the Indian tiffin tradition. Restaurants like Zuni Café and Mamahuhu recently signed a contract with the company to commit to a reusable model. Corporate membership is a plus for companies or universities looking to improve wholesale sustainability. Dispatchers place bins on campuses or buildings to make recovery as easy as possible.
This Boston-based cup rental company aims to make ordering coffee in a reusable cup as convenient as ordering a disposable counterpart. Users sign up for a standard (free) or premium subscription, download the app, order a drink, and then return the 16-ounce stainless steel cup to a designated storage bin. It offers useful materials, training and marketing for the participating cafes and restaurants, as well as a tool to calculate the environmental impact and cost savings of switching to reusable.
Created in response to the crowded trash cans created in the popular food truck scene in Portland, this ten-year service offers customers three different membership options based on the number of reusable check-outs at any given time. The company plans to expand to San Francisco.
Similarly useful, this free waste-free cup-sharing system has locations in Boulder and Berkeley. The nonprofit helps companies like cafes, campuses, ski resorts and event venues adopt a reusable cup model through the implementation of a full service or container tracking licensing software.
This Durham, North Carolina-based membership service allows customers to order takeaway food or bring home leftovers in reusable plastic containers from twenty-five restaurants and grocery stores, and then return them to a partner restaurant or special box.
Available in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, Zero Grocery has a similar plastic-free approach as buying groceries online. You’ll see the usual mix – dairy, products, meat, pantries – along with prepared and baked goods like vegan chocolate mousse and fresh corn tortillas, all packed in reusable cups or composting containers. Deliveries are delivered in reusable bags that are picked up with your next order.
Recently launched in Toronto, this launch allows customers to order takeaways in stainless steel containers with silicone lids. Diners orders through established online delivery platforms such as UberEats or the restaurant’s website and pays a usage fee of 99 percent per order. The supplier deals with the remediation of containers, so restaurants do not have to.
Build your own Waste-free kit
In addition to being incredibly durable thanks to the smooth stainless steel, what makes this non-toxic container so practical is the two-layer cross-section, so you can separate the salad from the soup. What’s more, it’s great double-masonry, which means it keeps hot things hot and colds cool. It even spoils quickly for easy cleaning – it sells.
Tiffin double-layer food storage tank
goop, $ 26
There are many reasons why we love the canteen from Corkcicle, but if we had to rank them: 1) It is triple insulated (mouth wide enough to accommodate ice cubes), 2) it comes with a straw sip cap that is great on the go ( travel trips, hiking trips, all trips) and 3) that sleek, durable finish makes it a pretty good helper, if you ask us. Plus, you just need to knock down two bad guys to score your water goal for the day.
Sports canteen of 40 oz
goop, $ 45
These reusable glass straws are perfect for gifting (keep a few on hand on unexpected occasions) and are a must for environmental directors of all ages. The best part about this? It comes with a silicone travel case, so you can keep it in every bag, backpack and glove box. Oh, and the second best part? It comes with the tiniest wiping tool in the world to keep it clean.
goop Traveling straw
goop, $ 22
A multiple non-toxic plastic-free alternative to your disposable sandwich bags, this handy squeeze bag is compressed from 100% silicone. You can write on it, microwave it and throw it in the dishwasher. Plus, it’s the perfect size for sandwiches, snacks for kids, fruits and vegetables – anything.
goop, $ 12