More takeout means more waste from single-use containers. Here's a possible solution
Dining restrictions during COVID-19 pandemic forced restaurants to increase take-out services
As Megan Takeda-Tully bikes along her neighbourhood streets, she makes a few pit stops along the way to pick up steel containers from a few porches and inside various store fronts.
It's part of her business, 'Suppli' — a reusable take-out container service she designed to help eliminate waste created by single-use packaging.
With COVID-19 restrictions forcing restaurants to increase take-out services, Takeda-Tully wanted to come up with an alternative to help eliminate the mountain of garbage created from single-use plastic and styrofoam containers.
"I love trying new restaurants and different types of cuisine. And oftentimes that means ordering in, but it came to a point where I just couldn't stand the amount of waste."
Here's how it works: Restaurants rent stainless steel containers provided by the program. Customers can sign up for the program and order food from participating restaurants. Then it's delivered to them in a reusable metal container.
Takeda-Tully says she does the rest.
"When they're done eating their food, they rinse them out, put them out for pick up or drop off at a central location for us to clean and sanitize," said Takeda-Tully.
Waste from single-use plastics, 'often come from takeout'
Though the program is still in the pilot phase, it's being offered in two different postal codes in Toronto, through five partner restaurants in an effort to curb the amount of waste created by the restaurant industry's growing reliance on food delivery services.
Chelsea Rochman, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto who has been studying plastic pollution for over a decade, says programs like this help keep materials that would otherwise become waste, out of our system.
Plastic pollution in particular, says Rochman, has become a really big concern and though the majority of waste comes from many different sources, cleanups around the City of Toronto show an abundance of waste comes from single-use plastics.
"Straws, coffee cup lids, styrofoam containers, other types of food containers, cutlery, plastic cutlery," are some of the top items Rochman lists being found in Toronto and around the world adding, "that often come from takeout."
A zero-waste service like 'Suppli' is a really important step to reducing plastic waste, says Rochman.
"One of the most common litter items that we see — the single-use plastic items often taken from coffee shops and restaurants — by reducing them and reusing them, we are absolutely cutting down on part of the problem."
Increase in takeout and delivery
Clint Gaudry, co-owner of Noushe, a restaurant and catering company that has partnered with Takeda-Tully, says they were looking for ways to minimize their carbon footprint, and 'Suppli' gave them that option.
"It's going to help eliminate single-use plastics, because the reality that we know is that in recycling, even though there's great intent, a lot of what getting sent for recycling, a lot of it's ending up in the landfill anyway."
Rochman says one of the side effects of COVID-19 has been an increase in restaurants having to rely on using takeout and delivery services as an option and applauds the restaurants who have partnered with Takeda-Tully and are using 'Suppli' containers.
"Change is hard and sometimes it costs more money, but it's really important to do it," says Rochman.
"I definitely would like to see programs like this expand."
Demand for containers increasing
Demand for the containers has increased faster than Takeda-Tully's expectations and the company is in the process of putting infrastructure in place to keep up with the growing scale of the company.
"I've already had inquiries from B.C., from other places outside of Toronto to bring this model there. We've obviously had to pump the brakes a little bit," Takeda-Tully told CBC News, adding "there's a ton of demand and appetite."
For now, she hopes to be able to grow the idea and implement the program across the city.
"In our first two weeks of operation, we had over 200 containers used," said Takeda-Tully.
"To put that in perspective for kind of on a citywide basis, if every household in Toronto ordered takeout using reusable containers using 'Suppli' just once a week instead of single-use, we'd save over two million containers a week ... And that's a huge mountain of plastic that goes through our landfills."