Reusable To-Go Container Schemes: Does Your City Have One?

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CC BY 2.0. Sami Grover

Takeout without the trash. What's not to like?

A little while ago, I discovered Durham GreenToGo, which, along with a slew of headlines and initiatives from communities all over the world, led me to wonder if single use plastics were having their coal moment.

I've now had a chance to try out Durham GreenToGo, and I must say I'm smitten. Essentially a subscription-based reusable container scheme, members can simply request a GreenToGo box (or boxes) at any participating restaurant, check out those boxes using an online app, and then rinse and return those boxes to a number of convenient collection points across the city.

The boxes are sturdy. The collection points are convenient and available 24/7. The app works as advertised. And as the kind of green nerd who worries about these things, I was pleased to see boxes being picked up from a restaurant near me by bike trailer—suggesting, happily, that the carbon footprint of collection and distribution is pretty minimal too.

There are, of course, challenges. The scheme is currently pretty small, with only one type of box available — so, as you'll notice from my photo above, we did end up with various salsas, guacs, queso, etc. in regular to-go containers. Similarly, I'm told by my favorite pizza joints that I'll only be getting salads and apps in GreenToGo containers—but who wants salad when there's pizza on the menu?! Still, it's a rather delightful scheme. And my guilty pleasure of Friday night takeout tacos felt a whole lot less guilty without the ensuing pile of styrofoam that usually comes with it.

Whether schemes like this can gain widespread adoption remains to be seen. I do suspect they are primarily being supported by the relatively trash conscious consumer who's probably recycling and unlikely to be littering. But they are a start. From coffee shops banning disposable cups to fast food restaurants getting rid of straws, we've seen several examples of how individual consumer action can spur larger corporate chain.

Now if municipalities could get behind such schemes—in the same way as Freiburg, Germany has created an alternative to the to-go coffee cup—then we really could start seeing them come to scale. After all, we are already paying tax dollars to haul other people's trash to the dump. What if we used just some of those tax dollars to subsidize slightly cheaper takeout for folks who don't need trash with their tacos?

Just a thought. Either way, I'm delighted that folks like Durham GreenToGo are doing what they do. Let us know if you have similar schemes in your community.