Brussels Has an Ingenious Solution to Wasteful Takeout Containers

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Sign up for the Tiffin Project and take your reusable dish to participating restaurants.

Do you remember reading about the city of Freiburg, Germany, where local cafes have tackled the issue of coffee cup waste by offering a refundable €1 cup? The cup can be reused up to 400 times and returned to 100 locations around the city. It's a brilliant idea that should be adopted by every town and city.

Now it appears that interest in minimizing food packaging has spread to neighboring Belgium, where the city of Brussels has introduced an intriguing Tiffin Project. This zero-waste endeavor connects eco-minded residents with restaurants that are willing to accommodate reusable containers.

The idea is that people will sign up with the Tiffin project online, purchase a stainless steel container that comes in two styles (a deep bowl or a more shallow, divided dish, both with sealing lids), and use this whenever they buy takeout food. As a member of the Tiffin project, they will get a 5 percent discount at the till, which is a nice little incentive.

As the website explains, Brussels' restaurants generate 32,000 tonnes of waste each year, one-third of which is packaging. This staggering amount of waste is only set to rise, as people are more likely to eat outside the home and rely on takeout meals; hence, the project's goal to change consumer behavior. Translated from French and edited for clarity:

"Our mission is to reduce food packaging waste by 1.5 tons per year per 1,000 members -- waste that, if incinerated, would emit 4 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere -- and to save €20,000 in the purchase of disposable containers, which could be better invested in sustainable catering."

It's a community effort; the more people who sign up, the more restaurants will want to participate and the easier it gets for everyone. It also encourages people to support small, local restaurateurs and to discover new places to eat, based on the list of participating locations.

The website notes that the idea for the Tiffin Project originated in Vancouver, Canada, where chef Hunter Moyes launched a similar idea in 2011. I was unable, however, to find any up-to-date information on the Vancouver chapter, so cannot report on its status. (Its last tweet is dated 2015.) "Tiffin" refers to the stackable metal containers used as lunch boxes in India.

It's worth noting, though, that you don't need a special stainless steel bowl or membership to get your takeout food in a reusable container. This is something everyone should be doing, taking dishes and bags to every store, whether you're buying a meal or shopping for groceries. But if being part of a community helps you to feel motivated or stay accountable, then it's a very good thing -- and that little discount helps, too. The more reusables can be normalized, and the faster we move away from our disposables-obsessed society, the better off we'll all be.