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Nanaimo reusable container business tries to limit take-out trash

Reusables Vancouver Island supplies restaurants with returnable stainless steel take-out containers
Kelli Etheridge, co-owner of Vancouver Island Reusables, displays some of the take-out containers available to customers from restaurants participating in a reusable take-out container pilot program launched in Nanaimo this month. (Chris Bush/ News Bulletin)

Restaurant patrons ordering take-out now have the option of returning take-out containers for reuse instead of tossing them in the trash.

Reusables Vancouver Island has launched a reusable take-out container service operated by Kelli Etheridge and Jennifer Leslie, franchise co-owners.

Instead of serving meals in single-use disposable plastic, cardboard, paper or foam take-out packaging, restaurants participating in the program will provide stainless steel containers with silicone lids that customers rinse and return to the restaurant.

Restaurants that want to participate in the program sign up with Reusables Vancouver Island.

Customers who want to help cut down on waste can sign up to become members of the program on the Reusables Vancouver Island app.

“The customers drop off the empty containers at any one of the restaurant drop-off locations,” Etheridge said.

The containers are then collected, sanitized and returned to the participating restaurants.

Five Nanaimo restaurants – Baby Salsa, Gaya Sushi, Melange Nanaimo, Buzz Coffee House and the Currie Culture – have signed up for the launch of the pilot program in the Island.

“We pick up, clean and sanitize and return to the restaurant, so it’s a very circular system to reduce the packaging waste that has become a giant problem,” Etheridge said.

The app lets members sign up for free for the first month and then pay $5 per month to stay with the service. Members get unlimited use of the containers and become eligible for member-exclusive offers and promotions, such as prize draws and free meals from participating restaurants.

“We’ve really gone for a spectrum of restaurants, so people feel like they can get a really good selection,” Etheridge said.

Stainless steel containers with silicone lids were chosen for their durability and ability to be repeatedly cleaned.

“We’ve gone with a really high-end product for a number of reasons,” Etheridge said. “We want them to last 1,000 uses or more. That’s the point, to try and reduce waste. Also, my business partner and I are both nutritionists, so we really feel it’s important not to eat out of plastic or eat out of things that aren’t good for your health too. Stainless is very safe. People can always throw it in the oven too, so they can reheat what they take out.”

Etheridge said she’d like see municipal bylaws put in place to help encourage more use of reusable packaging, similar to Nanaimo’s plastic shopping bag ban and the recent move by Tofino and Ucluelet to ban polystyrene foam take-out containers, to further help reduce waste going into landfills or littering the environment.

Moon Ku Kang, owner of Gaya Sushi, said almost all of his orders are for take-out, which results in an estimated 180 plastic containers sent out with orders that have to be recycled somehow or landfilled. Offering his customers the choice of using reusable containers was a good option.

“I produce a lot of garbage. That’s my thought and it would be good for me and good environmentally,” Kang said.

Kang said supplying the containers requires more work to keep records to track where the containers have gone, but it’s worth it to try to protect the environment.

So far, only a few customers each day have chosen reusable containers for their orders, which does require the customer to take the time to rinse and return the containers, but Kang expects more people might sign up for the program once they become aware of it.

Etheridge and Leslie plan to expand the service across Nanaimo and eventually across the Island to restaurants offering take-out service.

“We’re connected with Reusables Vancouver, so all our members, when they go to Vancouver, they can use our services, as well, and we plan also to go to Tofino and Victoria after we conquer Nanaimo,” Etheridge said.

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Chris Bush

About the Author: Chris Bush

As a photographer/reporter with the Nanaimo News Bulletin since 1998.
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