A couple of months ago, I was lucky to get a spot in the Royal City Recycling Champions program, a course sponsored by the City of New Westminster to help residents reduce waste generation. We must perform 20 hours of community service to get the certificate, so I wanted to do that by encouraging local restaurants to decrease waste from takeout containers—that’s how the Goin’ Green New West project came up.
Alternatives to single-use containers
- Takeout containers: 180 million
- Disposable cups: 260 million
- Utensils: 330 million
- Straws: 102 million
- Retail bags: 256 million
That’s a lot of trash, an average of 440 items per person. And it will probably get worse: 2020 numbers aren’t out yet, but they’ll likely be higher because of the pandemic-related increase in restaurant takeout orders and food-delivery services. In the best scenario, this waste will add to ever-increasing landfills; in the worst, it won’t be adequately discarded and eventually end up in the ocean or other natural areas.
It doesn’t have to be like that, though. We don’t need to stop buying takeout food; we need to do that without wasting resources and creating so much garbage. Inspired by the Green 2 Go Project, created by the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation (SPEC) in 2014, Goin’ Green New West aims to help restaurants adopt eco-friendly containers and engage the public to make the best choices ordering food.
Goin’ Green New West: Project overview
I’ve just started working on this, and besides the support of the SPEC facilitators, I’m doing everything myself. That means it probably won’t develop as fast as I’d like because, well, life and kids, but I hope that, along the way, others will want to help. So far, the plan has three phases:
Phase 1 – February and March 2021
Consumer Behaviour Survey – Understanding how often New Westies order food and their opinion on waste generation is essential to inform and motivate restaurant owners to adopt eco-friendly strategies. The survey will be open until February 20th and promoted mostly on local Facebook groups and, if possible, local media vehicles.
New West Restaurant Wiki – An open document anyone can update with information about each restaurant’s policy towards reusables and the takeout/delivery containers and bags they use. I’ll also promote it on social media to engage and inform consumers and restaurant managers.
Phase 2 – April to June 2021
Restaurant Info Kit – Online/printable document containing the survey results, information about disposable and reusable containers and their pros and cons, tips on reducing waste, and marketing tips to promote the changes.
Consumer Info Kit – Besides survey results and information about containers, this kit will feature hygiene and safety tips for reusable containers and email and social media templates to ask restaurants to adopt eco-friendly containers.
Phase 3 – Starting July 2021
“We use eco-friendly containers” Stamp – A symbol restaurants can stick on their door and feature on their website to announce that they use eco-friendly containers, a marketing strategy to motivate them to reduce waste. We could partner with an organization such as the City of New Westminster to approve the use of the stamp when a restaurant meets the requirements.
Goin’ Green Website–Create a website to centralize the project’s information and all the resources for restaurants, consumers, and volunteers interested in participating.
Expected challenges: Collaboration, time, and partnerships
Although I believe New Westies will answer the survey and take part, there’s always the risk of not getting enough buy-in for the project. Other than that—and the fact that I’ll be volunteering on this in my (scarce) free time—here are the other expected challenges and what I’ll do about them:
Volunteer help – Volunteers will be vital to design the stamp and create the site. It’d be awesome to get help from other communications and marketing professionals as well. I’ll check with SPEC and advertise on GoodWork.ca and LinkedIn to find volunteers. (By the way, if you’re reading this and would like to help, leave a comment or send me an email!)
Partnering with local organizations – I’ll reach out to organizations that may want to participate in this initiative. Their help will define if phase 3 will be possible and the overall results.
Promotion – To succeed, this initiative needs to spread as wide as possible across the city. There are many active Facebook groups in New Westminster, such as the New West Moms Group and Eat New West, so I’ll reach out to admins for help with promotion. I’ll also contact New West Record and other media vehicles, and local organizations that send out newsletters, such as Uptown New West.
Monitoring results and tweaking the project along the way
It’s great to count on SPEC’s wonderful help and mentorship in this project; I’m excited to get Goin’ Green New West started, seeing where it’ll lead and its results.
This post is a way to gather and reflect on my plans, share my experiences, and, most of all, open a communication channel to hear other people’s opinions and suggestions. I’ll be posting updates as the project evolves and looking forward to what the future will bring. Stay tuned!