“This is ridiculous!”
We’ve said it to ourselves more than once as we tore into our delicious, delivered dinner. Our pumpkin curry with chicken is fine—truly hot and tasty. The guilt-laden problem is the garbage that’s required to get that entrée, steamed rice and soup to your front door.
Especially during the pandemic, we pondered an ever-growing pile of plastic containers that couldn’t all be repurposed at home. We saw an embarrassment of disposable silverware or chopsticks, napkins, bags for chips, labels with glue and little condiment packages and, of course , the plastic bags they come in.
Yes, a miniscule proportion of the takeout delivered in Boulder is in real compostable containers, but the reality is that they are unlikely to end up back in local soil growing a crop of heirloom organic pumpkins.
Enter Ashwin Ramdas, co-owner, with Christopher Todd, of Repeater, the year-old reusable takeout container service for independent restaurants in Boulder and Denver.
Repeater restaurants in Boulder include Cafe Aion, Zeal, Yellowbelly, BOCO Restaurant, Cilantro Mexican Restaurant, Fresh Thymes Eatery, Gurkha’s On the Hill, Rincon Argentino, Leaf and Naked Lunch.
“I started a zero-waste delivery service in Denver,” Ramdas says. “During the pandemic I saw that doing something about the containers could have a bigger impact.
“The size of the issue has grown, and takeout and delivery in single use containers is having a huge negative impact on the planet,” he adds. “So many resources are being wasted on something that is used for a little while and then discarded and will never break down naturally in a dump.”
Compostables are not much of an improvement, according to Ramdas. “A lot of water and resources are involved in compostables. When they break down, they create methane. Compostables are a sham solution,” Ramdas says.
Compostables also haven’t been an adequate solution for many restaurants. Chefs put their soul into a flimsy box that may soak through the bottom by the time it arrives.
Repeater provides restaurants with light, solid, insulated, microwaveable plastic containers for takeout and delivery instead of single-use containers.
The company retrieves the containers, and sanitizes, tracks and redistributes them to eateries as needed. Diners drop their Repeater reusables in a bin at the restaurant.
“Each container can have hundreds of uses in its lifetime,” Ramdas says. “So far, 98% of the containers have been returned within two weeks.”
The key to reusables is making it easy for the customers and the restaurants.
Chef Daniel Asher was an enthusiastic early adopter of Repeater’s service at his Boulder restaurants, River and Woods, and Ash’Kara.
“To-go packaging is extremely wasteful and has a terrible impact on the planet,” Asher says. “To be able to easily adopt a thoughtful, safe, reusable meal packaging solution helps us fulfill our mission of sustainability without disrupting our takeout and delivery logistics. It also elevates our food visually.”
Cafe Aion and its ghost-kitchen, Brasserie Boulder, use Repeater when requested for takeout and delivery, according to chef Dakota Soifer.
“It was disheartening during the pandemic seeing how much waste was being created for takeout,” Soifer says.
“Repeater is as cheap or cheaper to use, instead of compostables or recyclables. The whole thing is practically hands-off for us,” he says.
For customers who want their tacos to-go in a Repeater container, the process is fairly simple and affordable.
“It does add one more step,” Soifer says. “Our guests need to sign up for the free Repeater app and get an ID code to use in the order.”
Customers press the Repeater button online, the same way they do when they want extra pineapple on their pizza. There is a small fee for using Repeaters. Ramdas compares it to borrowing a book from a library and returning in a reasonable amount of time.
“We are 100% compostable and recyclable in our containers, but guests say they are excited to have this better option,” Soifer says.
In the short term, Ramdas hopes to involve more local Asian and Indian restaurants, which rely heavily on takeout business. He hopes to partner with third-party delivery services to allow an easy, sustainable way for diners to return their Repeater containers.
The next big frontier for Repeaters is replacing all of those “recyclable” single-use pizza delivery boxes that are rarely recycled with a reusable alternative.
The key to moving reusable into the mainstream will be getting take-out and delivery aficionados accustomed to the idea.
“As we saw with electric cars, LED lights and bringing your own bags to the supermarket, it always takes a while for us to adopt new ideas,” Soifer says. “It takes some carrots and it takes some sticks.”
Local Food News
Purrfect Pause, a cat-themed cafe and cat sanctuary, is open at 5290 Arapahoe Ave., Suite E, in Boulder. You buy an hourly pass to enjoy the coffee and felines. … Colorado’s most beloved hot dog stand, the Coney Island Boardwalk in Bailey, is on the market for $1.5 million. No doubt it will become a condo—no condiments. … The scene lasted only a few seconds, but a bottle of NOCO Distillery’s Bourbon II whiskey recently appeared on the television series Star Trek: Picard. Star Trek fans’ enthusiasm now makes bottles of the spirits from the Fort Collins distillery hard to find.
Words to Chew On
“When food, in the minds of eaters, is no longer associated with farming and with the land, then the eaters are suffering a kind of cultural amnesia that is misleading and dangerous.” —Wendell Berry
John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles Thursdays on KGNU. Listen to podcasts at news.kgnu.org. Email questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org