When trying to reduce waste, one of the hardest things to give up is convenience foods. Tetra Paks, the dreaded black plastic, styrofoam, and so much cellophane stand between the consumer and a quick, convenient meal. Even at many fast food and carry-out places, there’s single use cutlery, condiments, and containers to contend with.
Recently, many local takeout places and chains have been opting for low-waste packaging or a bring-your-own-container system. A&W has cut plastic straws from their offerings, and has a limited amount of plastic in their packaging. They use post-consumer recycled paper on their takeout bags and tray liners, and in-house, their food is served largely on reusable plates, with drinks in their quintessential frosty mugs.
A couple of weeks ago, we had a meeting with all Guelph Tool Library coordinators, and we wanted to order in a lunch. As if on cue, Kirtida Kitchen announced a Bring Your Own Container program. We were able to get a delicious meal for 6 people with no plastic or paper waste. When I asked the owner of the store about the new initiative, he said he had several customers that already did it, and he felt it just made sense to make it part of their regular offerings. Since the launch of the program, many new and old customers have come in with their own containers.
My experience with BYOC has been pretty limited so far, mostly to coffee shops, bakeries, and bulk food stores, all well received. I decided to ask the members of a local Facebook group what their experience had been. Here’s one members thoughts:
Most places are fine with it! but won’t offer discounts. I bring my own container to Boon Burger, Crafty Ramen, and anywhere I go out to eat for dinner, nobody has complained with me packing my food myself in a container for leftovers… going to bigger takeout chains poses a problem because employees are required to follow company standards, but anywhere that’s small scale has no issue!
Another member says, “As a person who works at chain restaurant, we wouldn’t have any issue with you bringing your own container. This is Fionn MacCool’s. Whatever floats your boat.”
In the group conversation, members also suggested that The Greek Garden, The Hungry Ninja, and Na-Ha Thai’s Kitchen all allowed some form of a BYOC takeout practice, and no group members have reported any hesitation or resistance from the restaurants they propose this to.
One member brought up that for every good initiative like this, takeout places still contend with a lot of food loss and waste, and if they offer delivery, whether through their own service or a third-party company, the amount of carbon offset by patrons who opt-out of disposables would be doubled by those having food delivered to their home or office.
What about for those on the go with no container? A program that offered an “on-loan” reusable would help you get the food you want now, without contributing to plastic waste later. Toronto based meal-delivery service Fresh City Farms offers ready-made meals and grocery items delivered in reusable cooler bags and containers. Customers pay a deposit for the bags, and containers are returned and sanitized for reuse. They also have two storefront locations for local pickup, and much of the food is grown at their Downsview Farm location, which has a year-round greenhouse.
In a recent announcement, 25 major brands have committed to selling products in returnable, reusable containers. This “return of the milkman” system could allow consumers to enjoy the convenience foods they love, while putting the responsibility on the manufacturer to care for the packaging in a circular way. Loop is being piloted in Paris and New York this year, but is expected to reach Toronto by 2020.
The University of Guelph Icon Classroom will work over multiple semesters to audit, eliminate, and replace single-use plastics on campus. In a unique approach to thinking and learning, students will assess the use of plastics campus-wide, and work to provide solutions for their removal.
What can we do in the meantime? As consumers, we can continue to challenge the status quo by saying no. When we are prepared to say no, and keep our own reusable solutions handy, we reduce our need. By refusing single-use cutlery, plastic bags, and packaging wherever possible, we send a message to manufacturers and disrupt the way corporations think. If companies find themselves needing less single-use items in their daily operations, it is likely that they will order less, and by extension, manufacturers will produce less, or begin producing other still-needed, but more sustainable items. This is one way to promote sustainability without a major economic shift, or risk of collapse.
How will you cut down on your single-use waste this year?