Disposable takeout containers aggravate me so much that three years I initiated The Tiffin Project. Its goal: get restaurants here in Vancouver, Canada to give customers an incentive to bring their own reusable to-go containers, and help support local farm produce in the process. Am pleased to report that it took three years, we’re still operating at a very small scale, but we did it! How, you ask? Easy. I’m going to give you the recipe. But first, a little background.
The Environmental Impact of Disposable To-Go Containers
Disposable takeout containers contribute about 25,000 tons of waste to Vancouver landfills each year, in a greater metropolitan area that is home to just over 3,000,000 residents. One can safely assume that a larger city produces much more takeout waste. Much of this waste includes my arch nemesis, polystyrene (also known by the trade name styrofoam), Resin Identification Code [RIC] 6, which is not widely recyclable in North America.
When we first started talking about rolling out The Tiffin Project last summer, our main partner, the Noodle Box, with its 7 locations, was going through about 900,000 disposable takeout containers a year. Collectively, the restaurant partners we had enlisted were spending thousands of dollars a year on their takeout packaging. Some of the Noodle Box’s customers would even order their food in takeout boxes, only to eat in the restaurant, meaning that 20 grams of food would be bagged in a 15 gram takeout box.
The Tiffin Project Recipe for Reusable To-Go Containers:
I’ve spent more time over the past few years with The Tiffin Project than I have cooking food. (Thanks again to my past employees and co-workers for picking up my slack), but I believe that what I’m doing is definitely worth the effort.
The concept works like this: The Tiffin Foundation, a not for profit that I founded, sells a stainless steel reusable to-go container (designed here in Vancouver) that people genuinely like. They use it in local restaurants who we have partnered with us and receive incentives (provided by the restaurants) such as discounts off their meal. We make enough money to keep buying more containers, loosely sustain our organization and invest in the local food community, to help make good food available to our restaurants.
I’m a chef. So, here’s my recipe for The Tiffin Reusable To-Go Container project.
Four Parts : Environmentally Conscious Metropolitan Area (Vancouver, BC, Canada)
- One Part: Inspiration from the “Tiffin” system in Mumbia, India (est. 1880) (‘Tiffin’ means a light meal)
- One Part: Credentials as an aspiring Chef, combined with Brute Ambition, with a dash of Foolishness (For Presentation)
- One Part: Experience in Brand Management, Social Media, Public Speaking & Event Organizing
- One Part: Network in Social Investment Community (Excellent in British Columbia
- Combine social entrepreneurship community with half of your brute ambition – let temper.
- In a separate work space – combine: inspiration, Chef Credentials, and past work experience. Whisk until incorporated as a Non-Profit Organization.
- Knead network, with dash of ambition and foolishness in deserved measure.
- Combine all ingredients and blend with your environmentally conscious metropolitan area – allow a week for rest (you, not the product).
Future of Zero-Waste To-Go Containers in Vancouver and Beyond
In its first year of operation, The Tiffin Project sold 600 reusable to-go containers which in turn, helped to eliminate a few thousand disposable takeout containers from Vancouver’s waste stream. And we had a lot of fun in the process. Seven restaurants representing a total of 13 locations, now offer an incentive of $1 or 10% off takeout meals to customers who use the Tiffin reusable to-go container. More details are on The Tiffin Project website.
We’ll soon be rolling out our first European study with restaurants in Belgium, and the Project gets interest and encouragement from other cities, too.
The Tiffin Project will continue in Vancouver but with new vision and target: food court waste in high-occupancy downtown buildings.
You Can Reduce Takeout Packaging in Your City
With the help of a small number of people who hate to see things go to waste, I made The Tiffin Project happen with a $15,000 community development loan from Vancity, a BC credit union with a social purpose in my free time. Think of the possibilities for others who may be able to bring our model to a larger scale. Feel free to follow my recipe to make something like this happen in your city.