Reusable take-out container programs are a circular approach to help prevent the waste created by single-use disposable options that often cannot be recycled. The Center for EcoTechnology (CET) helps guide restaurants in reducing food waste and waste from take-out containers. As part of this assistance, CET is spotlighting businesses and institutions across the Northeast that are reducing waste from take-out containers by switching to reusable container programs. Initiatives like GO Box – Portland, Dispatch Goods, Useful, ReUser App, Ozzi, and Sustainable Mocean all provide restaurants with reusable alternatives to single-use containers. 

Grainmaker, a fast-casual restaurant with locations in Boston and Somerville, developed its Zero Waste Project to cut back on single-use to-go containers. Their program offers repeat customers the opportunity to receive orders in reusable glass take-out containers, and in its first month Grainmaker sold nearly 200 reusable containers. Over the course of a year, the program saves approximately $800 and prevents 2,100 pounds of single-use packaging waste per restaurant location. 

In Philadelphia, an Indian restaurant, Tiffin, developed a circular program called “Return2Tiffin” that utilizes containers specifically designed to be sanitized and reused up to 1,000 times. There are currently 8,000 containers in circulation. In a similar process to the one used for in-house dishes, glasses, and silverware, the returned containers are cleaned in sanitizer solution, washed in health-department-approved dishwashers, set to air dry, and stored for later use. 

At Yagi Noodles and Perro Salado in Newport, RI, customers can ask for their take-out meal to be placed in reusable containers. The pilot program is a collaboration between the two eateries and Sustainable Mocean. Customers rinse and return their containers to either of the two restaurants, which then sanitize and wash them to be used for the next meal.  

Tips for Implementing a Reusable Take-out Container Program 

  • Pick a single type of container for customers to purchase. 
  • Consider equipment needed: e.g., dishwasher, sanitizer, storage, etc. 
  • Educate staff on any new reuse-centric policies and practices. 
  • Sanitize containers upon return and provide a new clean container. 
  • Offer customers a discount for participating in the reuse program and build customer loyalty! 

How We Can Help 

CET provides free cutting-edge waste assistance and allows businesses to pinpoint opportunities for recycling, reuse, and food recovery. CET facilitates the evaluation of existing waste streams, the identification of opportunities relevant to waste diversion, prevention, and recovery, the empowerment of employees through education, waste bin signage design and implementation, cost analyses regarding a waste diversion program, and building of relationships with service providers. Help is available via phone, email, and on-site or virtual visits, as applicable.