It’s a chore Ontario residents have in their everyday life — returning their empties to The Beer Store for a small chunk of change.
Now a pair of entrepreneurs have taken that idea and applied it to takeout containers, which is timely given that many restaurants have beefed up their pickup and delivery options amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kayli Dale and Jacquie Hutchings are both graduates of the University of Waterloo’s chemical engineering program and wanted to make a positive impact on the environment.
Together they have recently launched A Friendlier Company in the Guelph area as a way to try and tackle a waste problem associated with the food industry: takeout containers ending up in landfills.
“We saw a lot of single-use food packaging waste in our lives and it bothered us,” Dale said.
“So when COVID-19 hit, we realized it was a perfect opportunity to tackle takeout containers because takeout was going through the roof and everyone was using disposables.”
A Friendlier Company sells its own containers to restaurants with the arrangement that customers pay a small deposit with their meal.
The company then refunds the deposit through its app. Customers scan the QR code on the container with their smartphone and return it to the restaurant. Once it’s back in the hands of A Friendlier Company, the deposit is refunded directly into the customer’s bank account.
“It avoids the need to handle cash or for the restaurants to have to worry about giving back deposits,” Dale said. “We do it all through the app and that way we can have contact-free returns.”
She added that the idea is modelled after The Beer Store. It adds a 21st-century twist with the smartphone app.
“It’s something people are used to doing,” Dale said. “You get some money back when you return your beer bottles and we’re trying to recreate that for takeout containers.”
Dropoff containers are set up at participating restaurants and the company picks them up for cleaning and sanitizing.
That process takes place at the University of Guelph, which has allowed the company to use its equipment to wash and sanitize the containers.
The containers can be sanitized and reused up to 100 times.
Dale said the response has been great in the early days so far, having already partnered with restaurants such as The Cornerstone and Carbon Cafe in downtown Guelph.
A Friendlier Company has also been working with The SEED, a Guelph organization that delivers meals to residents in need.
In The SEED’s case, A Friendlier Company is just supplying and cleaning the containers, and not charging a deposit.
“It’s a good feeling knowing we can continue buying back and sending out containers into the community rather than continually purchasing them and seeing them go to the landfill,” said Angela Picot, food literacy co-ordinator with The SEED.
Almost 100,000 meals have been sent out into the community since the beginning of the pandemic.
The SEED and its volunteers are responsible for picking up the used containers from homes. A Friendlier Company will take them away to be washed and sanitized before returning them.
Picot said A Friendlier Company has been a phenomenal partner.
“It’s a real pleasure to see two entrepreneurs doing well and making a go of something that’s good for the community, good for the environment and good for the people we are serving,” she said.
As with any up and coming business, A Friendlier Company is looking to grow its list of clients, especially in the Kitchener-Waterloo region.
Dale said there have been negotiations with businesses there and hopes that some new announcements are on the way.
“We’re looking to build a strong zero-waste hub in the Guelph and KW region and make it the norm to reuse takeout containers,” she said.
More information about A Friendlier Company can be found on their website.