A Guelph-based company is looking to make single-use takeout containers a thing of the past by providing restaurants with reusable ones.
Launched in October 2020 by University of Waterloo graduates Kayli Dale and Jacquie Hutchings, A Friendlier Company (AFC) has seen tremendous growth over the past few months.
The pair recently launched a pilot program with SkipTheDishes, and as of May 1, six restaurants began offering their reusable containers when customers order through the app, including The Crazy Canuck in Kitchener.
“They were instantly really excited about it, because they saw this as a great opportunity to promote sustainability within their platform and offer that sustainable option to their restaurants,” Hutchings said.
When ordering through the app, customers pay a small deposit that will be refunded once they return the container to any of the drop-off locations.
Once the containers are returned, they do all the sanitation themselves through a commercial high-temperature dishwashing facility before sending the containers back to the restaurants.
Dale and Hutchings first met when they were studying chemical engineering at UW. After spending some time working in manufacturing, they became struck by the amount of pollution they were seeing in the industry.
“It was a shock to see that these companies who market themselves as leaders in sustainability were creating so much waste and emissions,” Dale said in a news release.
“We really enjoyed our experiences [in manufacturing], but we were always left unfulfilled,” Hutchings told KitchenerToday. “We wanted to do something that we knew could make a difference in the world.”
Hutchings spent some time in the UK, where she was inspired by the reusable cup programs rugby stadiums use, where customers would pay a small fee to get a reusable cup, which they would give back after.
“We really just wanted to make it so that it could be easy for people to access reusable packaging and super convenient so that people actually did it,” she said. “And that’s why we decided to do this, and why we made it a centralized system with a mobile app so that people can access this packaging without having to sign up or anything beforehand.”
The pair scored their first customer, Ambiances Gourmandes, in 2020. Since then, they have expanded to around 40 companies across Ontario.
While Hutchings says it was difficult at first to get restaurants on board with the idea, they’ve been gaining traction over the last few months, expanding to Stratford, London, Grand Bend, and Hamilton.
Along with several drop off locations, AFC offers at-home curbside pickup. Customers simply request it through the app in exchange for their fee, rather than having it refunded. Some drop off locations also have bins outside for people who aren’t comfortable going in.
“We’ve had a really great response. Our restaurant partners have reported that they’ve had more people coming to their restaurants than they had before because of the program - so people are purposely seeking out the restaurants that have this reusable packaging option.”
The containers are made out of a polypropylene plastic, which she says uses 24 per cent less energy to make than a standard plastic takeout container. This means that the containers are “better than their disposable counterparts after just one use.”
“But the more times we reuse them, the more the impact is just driven down lower and lower.”
Each container saves about 50 grams of plastic and 168 grams of carbon emissions. “It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it adds up really quickly,” she said.
In fact, last week they hit a major milestone of 10,000 containers being reused. Hutchings said the amount of plastic saved from the landfill is equal to the weight of a sailboat -- 1,760 lbs worth of plastic or takeout container waste. Additionally, the greenhouse gas emissions saved is equal to driving your car from Newfoundland to Vancouver.
With their recent growth, Hutchings and Dale have their sights set on expanding across Ontario by April 2022.
For a full list of restaurants partnered with AFC and a map of their drop off locations, visit their website at www.afriendliercompany.ca.