How can we keep takeout containers out of the trash? This restaurateur has a tasty idea

With the rise of apps like UberEats, Foodora and DoorDash, food delivery sales in the country rose between 49 and 54 per cent in 2018, according to Restaurants Canada, making skipping the dishes easier, but also putting more single-use items like takeout boxes, plastic cups and utensils in the trash.

Should consumers be paying more for the dine-and-toss convenience? Or should the industry be responsible for coming up with environmentally friendly packaging? Some Toronto businesses think the answer is both.

At Farmr restaurant on The Esplanade, before customers pick their protein and sides, they have to decide whether they’re eating lunch on a plate or taking their food to go in one of the restaurant’s reusable containers.

Customers buy the containers for $4 and then return them for a full refund the next time they’re in.

Take out industry is booming

The concept is owner Kyle Webster’s way of taking sustainable food to the next level.

“Takeout is the fastest growing segment in the restaurant business,” said Webster. “We found that a lot of biodegradable containers weren’t getting disposed of properly and ended up in landfill … Same with the recyclable ones.”

Jo-Anne St.Godard, executive director of the Recycling Council of Ontario, says that’s true.

“Unfortunately we’re only recycling just over 10 percent of all the plastics we’re actually creating,” said St.Godard.

The City of Toronto collects more than 490,000 tonnes of waste annually from residents and other customers. And that doesn’t include the many businesses, office towers and highrise condos that have to hire private trash disposal services.

About 18 per cent of what the city collects is blue bin material. Exactly how much of that is single-use items is unclear, those aren’t tracked. But given the growing takeout industry the city says the numbers are significant.

Toronto wants to reduce single-use items

Toronto is launching the second phase of public consultations Tuesday on reducing single-use and takeaway items. The hope is to reduce people’s dependence on convenience items like paper cups or plastic containers.

The City of Toronto says charging people or businesses extra for opting for single-use containers is an option that’s going to be discussed during the consultation process. Residents have until Nov. 4 to submit their thoughts on single-use items.

People will need viable alternatives and St. Godard says having industry bear the full cost isn’t realistic; customers should be required to dish out for more sustainable options as well.

“Consumers can vote with their chequebooks … You want to support businesses that are innovating,” said St. Godard.

“Businesses should always be looking at alternatives and experimenting to make the industry more sustainable.”

For Webster, his reusable to-go container has been a small success. Farmr started offering the option in August and quickly ordered more after selling out in the first week. Every time a customer returns one, they’re washed and sanitized on site.

“We have about 50 now in circulation,” said Webster. “We give the customer 50 cents off their off their meal when they use our container or even if they use their own.”

The hope is to expand the service by getting other restaurants on board.

“This way, we can make it even more accessible for people by dropping the price point … making the environmentally friendly choice become easier,” said Webster.

A revolving takeout container service already exists in Durham, North Carolina. It’s called Green to Go.

The green plastic boxes are found in grocery stores and restaurants. Crystal Dreisbach got the idea about 10 years ago. She says the yearly subscription costs $25. People use an app to sign out the containers and then drop them off at one of several locations.

“We pick them up and sanitize them and redistribute them by bicycle,” said Dreisbach. “Currently we have 27 providers and 775 subscribers.”

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