You wouldn’t want to be single use plastic right now, it may just be the most hated object on the planet. Once it was hailed as the queen of convenience, enabling us to consume on the move, but its fall from grace now has us acting like it is the plague. Reality is though, plastic is the environment’s plague and we need some remedies.
Too often the responsibility of managing single use plastic falls onto the consumer and yet the real responsibility should rest with those who create it. I was chatting with my bestie the other day and she was lamenting about the ‘odd bunch’ which is a new Woolworths range that allows consumers to purchase imperfect fruit and vegetables. This is great from an environmental perspective as it means less fruit and vegetables go to waste at a farm level due to perfection standards imposed by supermarkets. BUT, they are always wrapped in plastic. So even when my bestie wanted to purchase a more environmentally friendly option, the plastic almost negated the positive environmental aspect.
Eating out for lunch is another challenge. The majority of cafes and takeaway places use plastic containers and until recently there have not been too many other options. Daily plastic use adds up. For example, if you eat out for lunch everyday during the work week, you could be consuming almost 250 plastic containers per year.
Finding New Solutions
As the need to move away from plastic grows, new solutions are being developed to solve the gap between convenience and consumer expectations for environmental standards. Beyond bringing in your own lunch, here are a couple of ways to reduce plastic waste.
I was recently in Melbourne and had to make a quick stop for lunch between meetings. Everywhere I went there was some form of plastic being used in the packaging. From sushi to sandwiches to rice paper rolls, everything was wrapped in plastic.
Then I came across Crisp. They are using Returnr, a new business that offers reusable metal bowls in place of plastic takeaway containers. The founder of Returnr is from the team at Keep Cup and is the next evolution of reducing plastic waste at a takeaway level. The idea is simple. You pay a deposit, use the metal container and then return it to the same shop. Once you do this, you get the deposit back.
My experience was great! I paid a $6 deposit and I got the $6 back when I returned the container just after I finished eating the salad. They even allowed me to purchase a reusable fork for $2 that I could take with me. It is not tucked away in my bag so I can use it next time.
I didn’t even have to wash the bowl, it was just like bringing back a plate to a restaurant. They have industrial dishwashers that they wash them with once returned.
Although I ate mine at the shop, many people take them back to their desks, eat their lunch, wash the container, bring it back and use it again straight away. The concept boasts shared use, less resources and less waste which is good for everyone!
Returnr launched in late 2018 with a four-month feasibility trial, which was extremely successful. Jamie Forsyth, Founder of Returnr and co-founder at Keep Cup told Smart Company, “In that time (the 4 month feasibility trial) we saved over 85,000 bowls from landfill, and since then we’ve been pushing out into a much wider network of merchants and we’ve got a heavy product development pipeline also,” he says. They have over 100 outlets using the product currently across Australia. Since they started they have partnered with Deliveroo and participating partners can be found here.
I got chatting to the guy behind the counter, who was so passionate and proud that his employer is doing something to solve the plastic crisis. He said that the trend started when people began bringing in their own containers for their lunch. The demand was growing for more sustainable solutions and when Returnr came on the scene they saw it was a great way to trial a solution that people want. In the first week they halved their plastic use and the popularity of it has continued to grow. I watched people filter in and out of the shop, many with the Returnr bowls and a few even brought their own containers in.
I sat next to a guy who used a Returnr bowl and he said that making a conscious decision to use the bowl and bring it back everyday is the least he can do to help the environment. ‘I need to do what I can to help the next generation.’ He said.
If you’re an organised person, then Trashless Takeaway is for you! They have mapped over 1000 places around Australia that allow you to BYO containers for takeaway. It started off when Nyssa Maisch, was pregnant with her son. Nyssa told SBS News, “It came about when I was pregnant with my son, who’s now almost a year old. We started getting a lot more takeaway food than what we would normally get, mainly because we were tired and a bit rundown. And we were just horrified with the amount of leftover plastic that we were left with afterwards and so we started taking in our own containers to get Indian or Thai or whatever, but we found that not all takeaway restaurants would accept them. We thought, oh, wouldn’t it be nice to know beforehand which takeaway shop, or café, or restaurant would accept our containers?”
They the mapped local businesses that would accept their BYO containers, starting in their local state, Tasmania. After the success of their takeaway mapping, they have extended it to supermarkets and butchers who allow BYO containers.
Traditionally, one of the challenges of using BYO containers has been businesses saying no due to hygiene standards. According to the Food Standards Australian New Zealand, there are no requirements in the Food Standards Code regarding people bringing their own containers to purchase food. This means it is up to the retailer to determine what they will do to ensure the food is safe and suitable for consumers as they are ultimately liable.
As the demand continues to shift to more sustainable solutions, businesses are adapting to these needs with some washing out plastic containers or using paper to line the plastic or using paper to line the plastic.
As solutions like Returnr become more common, businesses will adapt to consumer demands. Remember when Keep Cups were not often accepted at cafes? It is just the early days for the BYO and reusable containers, however, like Keep Cups it will become the norm when enough people use it.
If you find that a business is reluctant, you can show them the Trashless Takeaway website with all the participating retailers as well as sharing that you will only shop at places that offer plastic free solutions.