Full Cycle Takeout Hopes to Reduce Single-Use Containers in Hawai‘i
Zero Waste O’ahu’s pilot program is like a rental program for reusable food containers.
Reduce, reuse, recycle? Nope! More like reduce, reuse and repeat with Zero Waste O‘ahu’s pilot program, Full Cycle Takeout. Launched on July 23, the new initiative based in Hale‘iwa is working with four local restaurants to provide reusable containers for takeout food that you bring home and then return to one of three stations.
The idea of bringing your own container to pick up dinner sounds like it should be simple. It’s not. The state Department of Health has strict sanitization rules for the packaging of food leaving any restaurant. Restaurants must sanitize any reusable containers in a dishwasher or three-part sink, says Nicole Chatterson, Full Cycle Takeout co-founder and program director. “So, there’s a lot of barriers,” she says.
The group had been thinking of solutions for years, but last October, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration awarded Zero Waste O‘ahu a Marine Debris Prevention Grant, which gave them the investment the team needed to launch Full Cycle Takeout. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, one-third to two-thirds of debris collected on our beaches is from single-use, disposable plastic packaging from food and beverage goods. Hawai‘i is on the right track with banning plastic bags and single-use plastics, but the clamshells, disposable bowls and dishes are another challenge.
“We saw Full Cycle Takeout as a way to advance the reusables movement,” says Jennifer Milholen, Full Cycle Takeout co-founder and operations director. “We had already been discussing the need for a program like this—it was just a matter of committing and pursuing funding.”
Here is how it works. Sign up for a free membership on freecycletakeout.com, then you can check out up to 10 reusable containers at a time for free when you order food from Hale‘iwa Joe’s, Cholos, Rajanee Thai or Cosmic Kitchen. Once you’re done, drop them off, preferably cleaned and washed, to one of three kiosks in Hale‘iwa within seven days. Full Cycle Takeout will then clean and sanitize the containers according to the Department of Health’s standards and bring them back to the restaurants to be used again as many as 300 times or more.
There were some bumps in the beginning. “The most difficult part of setting up the program has been the logistics,” Chatterson says. “There are a million little details to figure out how we get the containers back from customers, pick up the dirty ones, get them cleaned, and then return the clean containers back to the restaurants.”
Milholen adds that another crucial element is holding people accountable to returning the containers. “The value of this type of reusable model is in the returning,” she says. “For it to be a truly circular model, with no waste, customers have to return the containers to be washed and used again.”
People who do not return the containers within seven days will be charged. But, Milholen says it would be even more effective if we could achieve a psychological shift that makes reusable containers in food service a normal occurrence, instead of an exception. “The more we see reusables offered for takeout in our favorite restaurants, and practice using the return systems and app, the more we have a collective shift in perception about what is possible, and doable, for large-scale waste reduction,” she says.
Full Cycle Takeout containers are 100% recyclable and made from 20% to 30% recycled material by a company called OZZI. The company says its containers are BPA and BPS-free, which can be harmful to your health, and made with No. 5 Polypropylene plastic, which is one of the safest plastics with excellent heat and acidity-resistance qualities. Once the containers can no longer be used, they will be recycled into new containers by the OZZI manufacturers in Oregon.
Chatterson and Milholen are hoping to expand to more places on multiple islands so people can check out reusable containers across Hawai‘i. They also note that the bigger the program grows, the more it may save restaurants money by reducing the number of single-use containers they buy. In order to do both, however, Full Cycle Takeout needs people to try it and let them know what they think. “We are the first ones here giving this kind of system a try. We are excited about community feedback and want to co-create with the community,” says Chatterson. “We are not pretending like we have all the kinks worked out. For this to work best, we need everyone’s feedback.”
And it’s not the final step on the road to sustainability. Zero Waste O‘ahu will continue to advocate for legislation to change the rules about how we can carry our food because, Chatterson says, “that really is the most sustainable answer.”