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Sep 26, 2022

Two Vancouver companies offer solutions to reduce single-use takeaway packaging

Single-use packaging is widely considered a scourge, contributing to the ecological crisis, but a pair of local startups want to change that concept, one reusable container at a time. and ShareWares are Vancouver companies that are working to normalize the circular economy, which will have a significant impact on reducing waste.

Cody Irwin is the CEO and founder of ShareWares, which has partnered with cafes and restaurants, such as Tim Hortons and Body Energy Club, to implement a borrowing system for reusable cups.

Irwin was running a corporate food delivery company before the COVID-19 pandemic. But like so many other businesses, it couldn’t survive because of a drop in customers. Still, he had all the infrastructure set up so he switched gears to a new venture, one that contributes to the circular economy in Metro Vancouver.

The idea is similar to a deposit fee on soda cans.

With coffee cups, the consumer asks to have their beverage in a borrowed cup at one of the participating businesses, pays a small fee (that is refunded upon the cup’s return), and then drops it back at one of the collection bins.

To find the nearest bin, the consumer can use a mobile phone to scan the QR code on the cup.

Then, ShareWares picks up the cups, washing and inspecting them. They then scan the cup and refund the consumer through an e-transfer. The clean cups go back to the coffee shops to be reused again and again.

ShareWares has other services as well, such as providing reusable containers for offices, events, food trucks and grocery stores. It also offers a washing service and they are expanding into providing reusable takeaway dishes.

Irwin said it’s all about normalizing the culture so that people become more accustomed to borrowing containers than using single-use items, which head to the landfill.

“It’s about developing an awareness. People think ‘oh I have a paper cup in my hand but everybody else has a reusable cup.’ It becomes a social thing, and then that starts to shift the needle and start changing behaviours,” said Irwin.

Next week, Irwin will speak at Metro Vancouver’s 12th annual Zero Waste Conference, which runs Wednesday and Thursday at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

The conference brings together business leaders, community innovators, and policymakers to discuss new ideas to make the circular economy a reality — one in which there is zero waste.

Online registration will close for Metro’s Zero Waste Conference on Tuesday at noon.

Also speaking at the conference will be Jason Hawkins, the CEO and co-founder of He’s on a mission to make it not only a snap to order reusable containers with takeout food or beverages, but something people just automatically do.

“How can we make reuse the default rather than just a choice? Because I think where we’re headed is we need to remove the barriers for adopting a more sustainable packaging solution,” he said.

“It can’t just be a choice for the hardcore zero waster … we need this to be ubiquitous in society.”

Diners can sign up and use the app. If they order from a delivery service like DoorDash, they can choose from a restaurant that supports such as Earls and then select the option for reusable stainless steel containers. Members just type in their reusables ID number and the food comes prepared in those dishes so there is no waste. The cost to join is $5 a month.

Then, the consumer drops the containers within 14 days at any participating location to be sanitized and reused. The company has nearly 100 locations, most of which are in the Metro Vancouver area, but the plan is to expand around B.C., across Canada, and into the U.S.

“Waste is like gateway drug to climate change — that’s how I think of it,” said Irwin.

Hawkins made a similar point, saying that climate change and biodiversity loss is connected to waste and society’s throwaway culture.

“A lot of the experts are suggesting that reuse in a circular economy is the most sustainable and potentially the most cost effective way forward,” said Hawkins.

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