With GO Box, You Can Have Zero-Waste Takeout

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©. Fresh n' Lean / Food in reusable containers like the ones GO Box uses

The 'library subscription' model for food containers is becoming increasingly popular.

Takeout food makes life easier, but it's hard on the planet, with all those plastic containers used only for a brief time and then thrown away. An obvious solution is for people to bring their own containers to get filled, but aside from the difficulty of remembering to do so and the hassle of lugging containers around, there are concerns about hygiene and contamination, as it's impossible to know just how clean a person's own container really is.

The optimal solution appears to be somewhere in the middle between these two examples, i.e. businesses offer a container that customers must return for sterilization and it is reused by either the same business or another one. There has to be an incentive for the customer to return the container, such as a fine or a frozen subscription, and it's usually quite easy to find drop-off locations. This is similar to how libraries operate.

Similar examples that I've written about so far have focused on coffee cups – in Freiburg, Germany, and Boulder, Colorado – but today I am excited to tell you about GO Box, a company based in Portland, Oregon, that follows this model for takeout food containers. Users purchase a monthly or annual subscription, which allows them to check out a specified number of containers at a time; they must return them to a designated drop site in order to be able to take another container. They can find participating vendors through the GO Box app.

The containers are made from BPA- and BPS-free polypropylene #5 plastic, which is considered safest for food. The GO Box website says this plastic is used for yogurt containers and baby bottles and that it is "highly resistant to heat transfer and is super durable." It is said to last for 1,000+ uses.

Because the GO Boxes are so light, all pickups and drop-offs are done by bicycle. While this may work year-round in Portland and San Francisco, where GO Box is currently offered, it remains to be seen how the company will handle the snow in New York City, where it's launching a pilot project.

Jocelyn Quarrell, founder and CEO of GO Box, estimates that over 225,000 containers have been spared from landfill as a result of GO Box's 80+ vendors and 3,500 members. These are impressive numbers and a sign that, given time and more widespread adoption, the way in which we pick up food for takeout could drastically change.