There’s money in reusable foodware

We all love take-out, but when a flimsy container gives way and spills the contents onto our laps, not so much. When the plastic container is burning hot, not so much.

When we see all the litter in our environment, not so much. And when we read about the negative health effects of single-use plastics, that is definitely a concern. One solution? A reusable foodware system.

A reusable foodware system can completely replace all disposable foodware items and you simply drop them off when you’re done – you don’t even need to wash them.

This is not a new concept, we just stopped doing it. Anyone over the age of 40 may remember returning glass drink bottles in exchange for money when they were younger. What we propose is something similar, just on a larger scale.

There is more than one way to achieve this.

A single restaurant can have its own contained reusable scheme whereby customers bring back the containers for the restaurant to wash. The restaurant can offset the costs of extra washing by the fact they don’t have to buy disposable containers. They may also get additional repeat business when their customers return the items.

In return, customers get high quality containers and therefore enjoy their food and drinks more. As an added bonus, both restaurant and customer can feel good about themselves for not stuffing yet more disposable containers in the trash.

Given Bermuda’s size and scale, an island-wide reusable foodware system would also work well, providing new business opportunities and therefore jobs.

There are numerous ways this could work, and Beyond Plastic Bermuda has teamed up with reuse experts, Perpetual, to help businesses design a reuse system, either for themselves, or as part of a larger, co-operative initiative. This is known as an open-loop system.

Perpetual is a non-profit organisation that is currently working with four cities in the US to design and implement city-scale, open-loop reusable foodware systems. All their systems are designed in consultation with all stakeholders so they could help find a system that works specifically for Bermuda.

An example of how this could work is by the establishment of a new company, which is responsible for the container pickups – be it from communal drop-off points or from homes or businesses – washing and drying all the containers and then redistributing them back to the restaurants and food outlets.

Restaurants may choose to wash their own containers, in which case, they would just need a pick-up and return service.

Starting a reusable foodware system costs money, but reuse is the future and there are investors, particularly impact investors, willing to help countries, cities and businesses set up reuse systems. Beyond Plastic Bermuda and Perpetual can assist with ways to bring Bermuda’s food businesses and entrepreneurs together with potential investors as well as reuse system providers.

Examples of successful businesses in this field include ShareWares in Vancouver. Customers and partner restaurants pay a small deposit for the reusable item. ShareWares is responsible for picking up the used items, washing them, refunding the deposits to both the customers and restaurants, and then returning them for reuse.

A deposit system may not work for your business, but this is why open-loop reusable foodware systems are custom designed to meet the needs of all involved. There are also other options. We have just used this as an example.

There are app-based systems and collection bin options. Seattle-based reuse company, r.Cup, uses RFID chips to recover reusable items thrown in the trash by mistake. This is happening, it is growing, it is the future.

Such a system would be even easier to implement in Bermuda when compared to busy cities that have people driving in and out of them daily. Most of us, for example, go to the same restaurants or cafés regularly.

Why is it important that Bermuda implements a reuse system?

Because it reduces trash, which helps our waste management infrastructure. It reduces the amount of plastic we use and generate. It is better for our health – toxins in single-use plastic foodware have been linked to cancer, diabetes, infertility and behavioural issues. These chemicals can live on in our bodies. Microplastics have even been detected in breast milk.

It is also good for business, the economy and the environment.

Many of us want to make more sustainable choices, we just don’t know how to or our busy lives prevent us from doing so. By implementing a reusable foodware system in Bermuda, we can help to solve so many of these problems.

Do you know a business owner who might benefit by switching to reusables? Tell them to contact Beyond Plastic Bermuda today.

Erich Hetzel is a local environmentalist and member of Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce (BEST); Katie Berry is a local environmentalist and a Beyond Plastic champion.

Beyond Plastic Bermuda is a joint campaign by BEST, KBB and environmental advocates to educate and help our island move away from plastic. For more information and ideas, please visit our website, or contact us at or 799-5142

The Royal Gazette