Reusable take-out container program expands to North Vancouver

A zero-waste program is bringing reusable takeout packaging to select restaurants and coffee shops in the east side of North Vancouver, B.C.

Since Monday, businesses in Deep Cove, Dollarton Village and Parkgate Village have been offering customers the option of using reusable containers through a company called Reusables, in a bid to reduce single-use plastic waste.

It's an expansion of a program that's been running successfully at select locations in Vancouver since March, according to Reusables co-founder Jason Hawkins.

Hawkins says people can participate by downloading the Reusables app and signing up for a membership. Members can then request the items they are ordering to be packaged in stainless steel containers, which can be returned in 14 days to any of the program's participating locations.

"That's what's great about our platform, you don't have to go back to the same [business]," Hawkins said. "So you get unlimited reusables for just five bucks a month."

He says the containers are cleaned thoroughly before they are reused. According to Reusables, the containers can be reused about 1,000 times before being recycled.

Pandemic brings more packaging waste

The concept supports a circular economy, wherein waste is eliminated or diverted from landfills as much as possible through methods like reusing, recycling, repurposing, repairing and refurbishing.

Hawkins says the program has been a success so far, with about 30 businesses in downtown and East Vancouver participating since its launch.

"During the height of the pandemic, there was food delivery exploding along with takeout packaging waste. We decided to launch a pilot test in East Vancouver with a handful of restaurants that were super excited about the opportunity," said Hawkins.

He says the company's goal was to sign up 100 users for a two-month pilot, but it ended up doubling that number. Reusables' membership has since grown to several hundred, he said.

Hawkins estimates that more than 2,500 containers or 125 kilograms of single-use packaging waste have been diverted from landfills since the program started running seven months ago.

He adds that the program is expanding to grocery stores, with Fresh Street Market in Vancouver House now offering Reusables containers as an option.

Push to reduce ocean pollution

Alison Wood, co-founder of the non-profit Ocean Ambassadors, says it is inspiring to see the reusable-container concept being taken seriously.

"The demand for takeout has exploded during the pandemic, and our oceans are paying the price," said Wood, whose organization coaches small businesses about zero-waste initiatives to help prevent marine pollution.

Plastic pollution recovered by volunteers in the Port Alberni area of Vancouver Island in 2018. (Michelle Hall)

The federal government says plastic pollution makes up an estimated 43 per cent of marine litter worldwide. Single-use plastics make up more than a third of all plastic waste, and are among the most collected items during Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanups.

In January 2020, the City of Vancouver implemented a single-use item reduction strategy, first banning the use of foam cups and takeout containers, followed by a ban on plastic straws. 

Starting January 2022, businesses will be required to charge 25 cents for every disposable cup. 

"There has never been a greater need for every one of us to consider how we can do our part to reduce single-use plastic," said Wood. 

Hawkins says Reusables runs on a proprietary platform that tracks the container-sharing system. The technology can be licensed so other entrepreneurs can implement the same program, he said.

Reusables Vancouver Island offers a similar program in Nanaimo, and plans to expand to Victoria and Tofino.