The Minimalist: Ordering Takeout the Sustainable Method


Photo courtesy Dispatch Goods

The minimalist

Andrea Arria-Devoe headshot

Andrea Arria-Devoe, longtime editor at Daily Candy, is executive producer on Straws, a documentary about how throwing plastic straws can massively change the environment. She is also a member of the Executive Advisory Board of the Plastic Pollution Coalition. In her column for Goop, Arria-Devoe examines everything from composting and buying countertops to environmental justice and shadow justice.

Ordering has always been a struggle for me. Before the pandemic, I almost always chose to cook a meal or dine in a restaurant so I could eat on real plates with real cutlery. If I were to order, it would come from places I knew had responsible take-away packaging to make up for any single-use plastic panic attacks. But after cooking (and cleaning up) three meals a day for a family of four for nearly a year, I felt completely burned out with my kitchen chores. Not to mention my desire to help restaurants in trouble.

After a recent move to New York City, I discovered DeliverZero, an online platform that allows customers to have groceries delivered in reusable containers from restaurants. Then send the containers back to the deliverer directly for your next order or arrange to drop them off at a partner restaurant. The ability to enjoy Indian or Chinese takeout and support local businesses with no regrets has changed the game.

The timeliness and necessity of reuse cannot be underestimated. Before the pandemic, an estimated 561 billion single-use foods were used each year in the US alone. (This includes containers and lids, coffee cups, cutlery, napkins, disposable condiments like ketchup and mustard, straws, those plastic stick coffee chains that go into your disposable cups to keep them from spilling, and plastic bags.) Stay tuned – home orders and – Mandates that restaurants are only allowed to offer take-away and delivery have exacerbated the plastic pollution crisis caused by a broken recycling system. According to the EPA, only 8.5 percent of all plastic waste is recycled. The devaluation of the oil will lower that number even further, as using fresh plastic is much cheaper than using recycled materials. And since online restaurant delivery is expected to gross around $ 77 million over the next four years, according to The Wall Street Journal, the wastage involved is mind-boggling.

Statistics aside, your local trash can is overflowing with disposable drinking cups, straws, and water bottles to help grasp the scope of the problem. GoBox, a reusable container system based in Portland, is designed to tackle the excessive junk created by the city’s booming food truck scene a decade ago. Customers choose either a monthly or an annual membership subscription, which allows a certain number of reusable items to be borrowed at the same time. Similar services are available in other future-oriented cities with slightly different business models (see box below). What they share is a mission to break free from a throwaway culture and move businesses and individuals to a circular economy that values ​​materials, collaboration and partnership.

While COVID-19 has dealt a blow to citizens who are used to bringing their own mugs for a waste-free coffee routine, it has given startups like Vesselworks an opportunity to address the disposable cup problem. (Paper cups can’t be recycled because of the thin plastic lining inside, which means 58 billion goes to landfill annually.) With locations in Boulder and Berkeley, the nonprofit runs a free reusable cup sharing program. As with a library book, users check out a double-walled, insulated stainless steel vessel in participating cafes and restaurants and then have five days to return it to the restaurant or kiosk. After disinfection, the ships are refilled in a facility certified by the health department.

What if you don’t live in a city with access to reusable services? You can still advocate for less unnecessary waste when ordering groceries.

Campaigns like #CutOutCutlery from Habits of Waste and #SkiptheStuff from Reusable LA successfully convinced UberEats and Postmates to change their delivery apps so that utensils are only made available on request. GrubHub will join the effort in the coming months. Postmates reports that since joining the campaign in October 2019, 122 million packs of plastic cutlery have been saved from entering the waste stream, a saving of $ 3.2 million for restaurants. Habits of Waste urges citizens to sign a petition asking the other major delivery platforms to do the same. The organization celebrated a victory with Reusable LA in early March when the Los Angeles City Council unanimously passed a motion that disposable plastic cutlery and accessories are only available upon request. Habits of Waste recently unveiled the Utensil Opt-In Idea to California State and New York State Senators and Congregation Members in hopes of turning #CutOutCutlery into a bill.

In addition, apps like Jybe help connect conscious consumers with grocery sellers who are committed to sustainable packaging practices. Users rate and review a restaurant’s to-go packaging by providing a photo and details, such as: B. whether styrofoam or compostable containers are used. When a restaurant has a low rating, Jybe offers advisory services to restaurants looking for guidance on how to make better packaging decisions. It is now available in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Austin, Boulder, and Denver.

And finally, don’t be afraid to speak up. Tell your favorite restaurants (politely) that they do not need or want any single-use plastic bags, straws, utensils or spices with your order. Better yet, introduce them to a service that offers reusable take-out containers.

Startups with reusable containers

Send goods

This zero waste container service is currently available across San Francisco and delivers restaurant meals in stainless steel containers inspired by the Indian Tiffin tradition. Restaurants like Zuni Café and Mamahuhu recently partnered with the company to commit to a reusable take-out model. Corporate membership is a plus for companies or universities that want to promote sustainability in wholesale. The shipping department places trash cans across the campus or in the buildings to make the return as easy as possible.


The Boston-based mug rental company wants to make ordering a coffee in a reusable mug as convenient as ordering its disposable counterpart. Users sign up for either a standard (free) or premium subscription, download the app, order a drink, and return the 16-ounce stainless steel cup to a designated trash can. Useful provides materials, training and marketing to participating cafes and restaurants, as well as a tool for calculating the environmental impact and cost savings of switching to reusable products.

GO Box

This ten year old service was created in response to overcrowded trash cans originating from the popular Portland food truck scene. It offers customers three different membership options based on the number of reusable products checked out at any given time. The company plans to expand into San Francisco.

Ship work

Similar to Usefull, this free cup-sharing system with zero waste has locations in Boulder and Berkeley. The non-profit helps businesses such as cafes, campuses, ski resorts, and event venues adopt the reusable cup model either through full-service implementation or through licensing software for container tracking.

Take away green

With this membership-based service from Durham, North Carolina, customers can order takeaway or home leftovers in reusable plastic bins from 25 participating restaurants and grocery stores, and then return the bins to a partner restaurant or a dedicated Dropbox.


Available in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, Zero Grocery takes a similar plastic-free approach to online grocery shopping. You’ll see the usual mix – dairy products, produce, meat, stock items – as well as prepared and baked goods like vegan chocolate mousse and fresh corn tortillas, all of which are packaged in reusable jars or compostable containers. Deliveries are made in reusable containers, which are then picked up with your next order.


This startup recently launched in Toronto allows customers to order takeaway in stainless steel containers with silicone lids. Diners order via established online delivery platforms such as UberEats or the website of a restaurant and pay a usage fee of 99 cents per order. Suppli takes care of disinfecting containers so restaurants don’t have to.

Build your own Zero waste kit

Food warehouse

Not only is this non-toxic container incredibly durable thanks to the sleek stainless steel, it also makes the two-tier cut so convenient that you can separate your salad from your soup. Additionally, it’s brilliantly double-walled, which means it keeps the hot stuff cold and the cold stuff cold. It even breaks down quickly for easy cleaning – sold.

Onyx two-layer Tiffin storage container for food

Onyx two-layer Tiffin storage container for groceries, $ 26


Water bottle

There are many reasons we love the Corkcicle canteen, but if we had to classify it: 1) it is triple insulated (the mouth is wide enough to hold ice cubes), 2) it comes with a straw swallow cap which works great suitable for on the go (road trips, hiking tours, all trips) and 3) this sleek, durable finish makes it a pretty good mate if you ask us. Plus, all you need to do is set back two of these bad guys to complete your water goal for the day.

Corkcicle 40 ounce sports canteen

Corkcicle 40 oz sports canteen goop, $ 45


Glass straw

Perfect for gift giving (have some handy for unexpected occasions), these reusable glass straws are essential for environmentalists of all ages. The best thing about it? It comes with a silicone travel bag so you can keep one in every bag, backpack, and glove box. Oh, and the other best part? It comes with the world’s smallest squeegee tool to keep it clean.

SOMA goop travel straw

SOMA Goop Travel Straw Goop, $ 22


Reusable bag

This practical squeeze-seal bag is a reusable, non-toxic, plastic-free alternative to your disposable sandwich bags and is made from 100 percent silicone. You can write on it, put it in the microwave, and throw it in the dishwasher. Plus, it’s perfect for sandwiches, kid’s snacks, fruits and vegetables – anything.

Stasher Reusable Sandwich Bag

Stasher reusable
Sandwich bag goop, $ 12