Standing in front of the recycling bin with a plastic sushi takeout container, Lauren Sweeney, the now-cofounder of reusable takeout box brand DeliverZero, came to an uncomfortable realization: The trash from her meal was likely going to end up in a landfill regardless of how she disposed of it.
Indeed, there are nearly one trillion disposable food service products used in the United States each year—equaling the weight of 25 Empire State Buildings—but less than 9% of those are successfully recycled. And the vast majority of food service containers, despite some featuring a recycle symbol, are not recyclable at all and will likely go to a landfill, be incinerated or become litter, according to a survey conducted by Green Peace.
The solution is not to completely stop ordering takeout (phew!), but to look at what changes can be made today so we can see less Empire State-size quantities of trash tomorrow. Here are three female-run brands making a difference.
Launched in 2019, DeliverZero provides reusable takeout containers (that can be used more than 1,000 times) through partner restaurants in New York City. “As a busy, single mom, takeout waste was hard to avoid, and I wasn’t about to start cooking every day,” says Sweeney. “So I wanted to see if people were interested in this solution, and quickly realized that they were.” The brand now works with more than 100 restaurants and is doing a pilot program with DoorDash and Caviar.
Customers order takeout as they typically would and select the reusable container option for just $0.99. They then have three weeks to return it to any participating establishment or food courier.
“I’ve been recycling my entire life, but a few years ago I learned that recycling wasn’t working how it was supposed to,” says Jocelyn Gaudi Quarrel, owner and CEO of GO Box, a zero-waste takeout container provider in Portland, Oregon. It’s also the first reuse system in the country with its own operating facility, which allows the company to handle logistics, sanitation and storage, and helped it launch pilots with big corporations like Starbucks and Imperfect Foods.
To get involved as a local, sign up for a subscription through their website or app (starting at $3 per month) and access sustainable takeout from more than 100 partners. GO Box is also available for use at grocery stores and cafes across Portland.
While working in public health research in 2010, Crystal Dreisbach learned about the negative impacts of single-use takeout boxes and knew she had to do something about it. That same year, Dreisbach submitted her idea for a reusable takeout container to a magazine contest for “extraordinary solutions to everyday problems” and won runner up. She was clearly on to something.
Dreisbach went on to establish the nonprofit organization Don’t Waste Durham in North Carolina, under which GreenToGo is a social enterprise. GreenToGo is one of the first reusable takeout container brands to have a mobile app for checking out and returning containers city-wide, as well as the first to use reusable pizza boxes. It also works with schools, businesses and restaurants to provide reusable containers and sanitation.
GreenToGo is currently a membership service starting at $25 per year—you order food through the app, pick it up or get it delivered from a participating restaurant or cafe, then bring it to a return station when finished.
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Kelly Meehan Brown is Millie’s senior editor and an Irish expat who has been covering all things at the intersection of money and fun for the past five years. She currently lives in New York City with her husband and one-eyed black cat.