Where I work in downtown Vancouver, there are about four food courts within a three-block radius. However, I have always been bothered seeing the amount of paper, plastic, and styrofoam waste that is generated during lunch time. It is painful to imagine just how much waste it generated during a single lunch hour in a single food court. Is it OK for office workers like me to turn a blind eye to the mass inefficiencies of the food court, all in the name of a 12pm meal?
The reality is, whether you sit down to eat or take out the food, you are likely using a throw-away plate or container, along with the utensils. When you get food to go, you might get a plastic bag to hold the styrofoam container (which by the way doesn’t really add much convenience for most able-bodied people, unless you’ve been out running other errands and thus carrying many other things). I’ve taken a few steps in the right direction by bringing tupperware to get a slice of cheesecake or to hold my sushi order, or by bringing a real plate to one of the Greek fast food joints. But I don’t do it often enough, and when I do, I always feel like I have to go early before the place gets busy.
While the true lifestyle change would be to always bring a lunch to work in a re-usable container, let’s assume that people will still want to go to a food court sometimes. Before looking at a solution, let’s look at the current situation from the perspective of the food customers and of the fast food restaurants.
Why we eat fast food
- Eating at a food court is comparitively cheap versus going to a full-service restaurant.
- It’s certainly fast. Head down to the food court, grab your food and go.
- It’s convenient. Walk in, pay, throw out.
Why fast food places use styrofoam other other wasteful packages and containers
- It’s cheap (presumably).
- It’s fast. There are stacks of plates or containers waiting. Grab it, put the food in, give to customer
- It’s convenient. No worries about cleaning, plates breaking, people stealing plates and cutlery.
A model of re-usable containers has already been done in coffee shops when they offer small discounts for bringing your own coffee mug. It’s nothing new.
What if fast food restaurants were to offer discounts for customers bringing their own containers? Restaurants could even sell their own tupperware or brand it. They could also accept only approved sizes or styles. And it wouldn’t negatively affect any of the reasons for them to use wasteful containers (as listed above).
Customers would of course have to take the onus of bringing their own containers and then taking them back to the office or home to wash (that’s the only inconvenience for customers if we look back to the list of reasons above).
Now, we all know that people respond to incentives. Let’s look at the proposed plan from the perspective of the food customers and of the fast food restaurants.
Incentives for the fast food customer
- They get a discount.
- The satisfaction of respecting the environment.
- The satisfaction of being efficient (isn’t it built into us, even in the smallest amount, to try not to be wasteful?).
- Save yourselves! In the end, people won’t have to worry so much about where to put the waste and how harmful it is to the environment.
Incentives for the fast food restaurant
Other than the warm and fuzzy satisfaction feelings that were mentioned for the fast food customer, we would essential force fast food restaurants to adopt this plan due to market forces.
Consider this progression:
- At first, tree huggers and cheapos alike would favour fast food restaurants that will put food in re-usable containers. This benefits early adopters.
- Other stores are forced to adopt or else they will lose business.
- After mass adoption has occurred, fast food restaurants discontinuing the plan or those laggards who still haven’t gotten on board will be picked on and would have to explain their reasoning. The current hot topic is of course being green…
- Certain fast food places are better suited to adopt this idea, since sometimes different packaging is used to measure food. Honestly, though, they could either learn to adapt or perhaps use their our own branded tupperware in specific sizes.
- We cannot ensure that people are bringing back clean tupperware. After all, we’re introducing an external substance to the supposedly controlled food preparation environment. To address this, fast food restaurants could have the right to refuse tupperware, falling back to the default bad packaging in such a case.
- For efficiency purposes, some fast food restaurants might get mixed up as to which container is whose. But that’s no different than identifying which order goes to whom. And to eliminate the problem of tupperware with multiple parts, they could accept only take the bottom of the container, not the cover.
I’m going to have to scout the fast food outlets and muster up the courage to talk to some of them during non-peak hours. Anybody want to join me or start your own initiative?
In the meantime, as a fast food customer you can take matters into your own hands by re-using plastic cutlery and bringing your own container. After all, the only difference in doing that is that the plan I have proposed would offer you a minor discount and might start a small movement to help speed up adoption.
Popularity: 75% [?]