Sixty thousand. That's the number of to-go containers - mainly plastic clam shells and soda pop cups - that head to the landfill each month, generated only from Portland's burgeoning food cart scene.
Have you ever grabbed a quick lunch at a taco cart or a Thai take-out, sat down at a park bench to eat and been disgusted by the amazing amount of trash your meal-on-the-go generated? Portlander Laura Weiss decided to try to do something about it. Weiss was hampered, as every to-go eater is, by health department rules that make it verboten to get take-out food in your own reusable container.
But that just prompted Weiss to come up with a city, or at least a food cart-wide solution.
Weiss created Go Box, a bike-driven service that distributes reusable #5 plastic containers to participating food carts, then collects, cleans, and sterilizes the containers after they've been dropped at a drop box at cart locations, and returns them back to the food carts ready for refilling.
For the food cart eater, Go Box participation requires the payment of a one-time fee of $8.50, which gives the eater a single token key. When the eater orders at one of the participating carts, she turns in her token key and gets her food in a resuable Go Box to-go container. Either then or later, when finished eating, she returns her now soiled container to the drop box, which issues her another token for the next round of eating.
Weiss' service will also cost food cart vendors to participate, but she is hoping that carts that use at leat 24 containers a month will be able to spend the same amount that they would for disposable packaging. Each day, GO BOX will deliver a new supply of clean, sterilized reusable containers.
Go Box will offer three sizes of reusable clam shell to-go containers. Photo courtesy GET.
Currently, Weiss has three food cart vendors participating in a pilot of the project - Thai Sky, Spoons on 5th, and Saigon Food to Go. Cart vendors will get $1.50 for every eater that signs up for a membership in Go Box.
She hopes that all of the food cart vendors in Portland's downtown area that use clamshell packaging will be part of the Go Box service.
Go Box is cool, as it takes care of one of those problems so vexing to sustainability advocates - the crazy overuse of disposable packaging in our society. But, is it green?
Weiss said that the packaging manufacturer, GET, did a life cycle analysis of both disposable packaging and their reusable plastic packaging, and found that the reusable packaging will beat the disposable after 24-36 uses.
That's a lot of lunches.
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More on reusable packaging:
Online Tool Calculates If Reusable Packaging Is Worth It
4 Radical Solutions to Packaging Waste
Orikaso Folding Dinnerwear: Smaller, Better, Lighter