During the pandemic takeout meals have become the norm, enabling restaurants across Massachusetts to continue serving customers when in-person dining is limited. For consumers, this convenience comes with a trade-off: an abundance of packaging and single-use items that often cannot be recycled. For the food service industry, this means spending money to purchase items that often cannot be recycled, and leaving customers with extra packaging waste.
Grainmaker, a fast-casual restaurant with locations in Boston and Somerville, has embraced its values of strengthening the community and being a positive influence by creating a program to reduce packaging waste from to-go orders. After less than a year of implementation, this program is already reducing waste and saving the business and customers money. RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts (RecyclingWorks) recently spoke with Grainmaker owner Chris Freeman to learn more about their Zero Waste Project.
Recognizing the waste generated by the food service industry, Grainmaker developed its Zero Waste Project to cut back on single use to-go containers. Since 2019, the program has offered repeat customers the opportunity to receive orders in reusable glass take-out containers. Individuals participate by making a one-time $10 purchase of a 32-ounce glass container from the business. Customers receive 5% off of their order when they return the container, and the restaurant uses a new sanitized container for their order. After about 15 visits, a customer will break-even from the initial investment, and begin to realize the full savings of the discount.
Single-use takeout containers represent a significant cost for fast-casual restaurants, and transitioning a small fraction of their customer base to reusable containers over the last year has already made a notable impact for Grainmaker. In the first month of the program alone, Grainmaker sold nearly 200 reusable containers. Over the course of a year, the program generates approximately $800 in savings and prevents 2,100 pounds of single-use packaging per restaurant location.
Through this initiative, Grainmaker is working to shift the food industry towards sustainable packaging choices, and encourages others to replicate the program. Freeman explained that he aspires to partner with other businesses that serve similar size entrees to expand the number of locations where customers can bring the same glass container.
Here are a few tips for food businesses interested in launching a similar program:
- Purchase a single type of container. This consistency supports storage in back-of-house operations while also facilitating streamlined order preparation.
- Provide the containers for purchase, and incentivize customers to participate by offering a discount each time they use the container.
- Utilize a dishwasher to ensure returned containers are properly sanitized before reuse.
- Spread the word. Communicate with employees and customers about why the program is being offered and how they can help make a difference.
RecyclingWorks assists businesses and institutions with waste prevention, reuse, recycling, and food recovery. Our website includes specific guidance for restaurants, as well as case studies highlighting the successful strategies other restaurants have employed to reduce waste. To speak to a recycling and food waste diversion expert, call our hotline: (888) 254-5525 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.