A new trend report found that some restaurants are rewarding customers with discounts when they avoid using single-use containers.

By Zee Krstic
April 18, 2019
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According to a new report from data analysts at MarketWatch, more restaurants in the United States are offering diners discounts and other incentives when they bring in reusable dinnerware and to-go containers. Food packaging and takeout containers contribute about 23 percent of the trash that fills up landfills every year; the Environmental Protection Agency equates that to about 39 million tons.

One of the most successful promotions of sustainability in reusable containers is actually found at a chain restaurant. Just Salad, a fast casual restaurant that known for their customizable salads, offers $1 reusable bowls that loyal customers can bring in every time they wish to purchase a meal-in exchange, they'll enjoy free toppings. In May, the brand is further promoting their reusable container program by offering unlimited salads to any customer with one of the bowls for just $129. If you plan to enjoy month's worth of salads, that works out to just about $4 each.

The chain's approach to eliminating single-use plastic containers is so successful that the EPA awarded Just Salad with a WasteWise award in 2017 for its efforts. Corporate officials say that 25 percent of all customers use reusable containers, which saves about 75,000 pounds of plastic every year; a number that's increasing, as Just Salad saw a 38 percent increase in reusable bowl purchases in the past year, according to MarketWatch.

Other local restaurateurs are incorporating eco-friendly practices more permanently into their business model. At Ancolie, a café-like eatery in Manhattan's West Village, nearly all of its offerings (from coffee to grain bowls and desserts) are served in glass Mason jars. Diners will cough up a $2 deposit for the jars, but if they come back with the glass containers, they'll get discounts on their next meal. Chloe Vichot, the owner of Ancolie, told MarketWatch the return rate is about 40 percent. Plus, Vichot says, it's an opportunity to create visually appealing meals.

"I was like, 'Oh it's a no-brainer-everyone is going to be waiting on line to take pictures because it's so Instagrammable,'" Vichot said. "The visual aspect was very important to me. That's clearly something that's been helping my business for sure."

Research firm Nielsen recently found that 66 percent of Americans are willing to pay more for food and other items that come from brands that are trying to reduce their environmental footprint-which is why companies like PepsiCo are attempting to introduce zero-waste packaging into their product lines soon.

More and more eateries are focusing on zero-waste practices, which can positively impact the environment-but MarketWatch notes that it can also help reduce food brands' costs, which inevitably is passed on as a discount to loyal customers who are committed to reusable containers. "There's a big uptick in people who are willing to carry around reusable containers. It's becoming the standard," John Oppermann, executive director at Earth Day Initiative, told MarketWatch. "You give people an incentive where every time they come they save 'X' amount and it adds up. It benefits them, the environment and in some cases, the company."

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