In case you haven't noticed, as a society we haven't gotten better at reducing waste. In fact we've gotten worse. Not only has our addiction to bottled water made us all plastic consumers, retailers also aren't helping. The grocery stores we would like to praise for their sustainable practices, such as Whole Foods, are also the worst offenders when it comes to packaging 'creep'.
This expanding waste stream is the problem Laura Weiss wanted to contain when she created Go Box in Portland, Oregon. Weiss' piloted a program that teams with some of Portland's copious local food carts to offer reusable plastic packaging to local patrons. For a one-year subscription fee of $12, a consumer purchases a token that they give to participating food carts, and their takeaway food is served in reusable (BPA-free) plastic containers.
From the start, Go Box was considered an innovative solution to disposable waste. Weiss has continued to refine the system to try to make it easier for consumers to return the reusables at multiple locations (there are now a dozen in downtown Portland) and receive a new token for their next food purchase.
After a year, Go Box has managed to divert 8,000 disposable 'clam shell' containers from the Portland waste stream, and Weiss has plans to expand. She's moving beyond just the food cart realm to include downtown Portland restaurants that do take out, such as Freshii.
About 900 Portlanders have subscribed to the Go Box service, and Weiss does all the pick up of used containers (which are washed in a commercial kitchen) and drop off of clean containers by bike.
Currently, downtown Portland uses about 60,000 disposable containers per month, so the Go Box contribution to waste stream reduction is still small. But it may be catching - the University of Vermont at Burlington also has a subscription program to encourage students to get take-away foods in reusable Eco-Ware packaging. Already the program has dished up 10,000 meals in the reusables. Students receive a $.15 cent discount on meals they buy in the reusable packaging, which helps them offset the subscription cost ($7.50) over time.