10 Tips for Returning to Work — Without Drowning in Single-Use Plastic

By Jessica Heiges and Lindsey Hoell

Four months ago, we were launching our reusable container system in downtown San Francisco with an exciting list of companies and restaurants. Our model placed reusable container return bins (we coined them “4th bin”) on every floor of office buildings. Employees were given “Dispatch Goods Memberships,” which granted them access to reusable containers at many local restaurants when ordering take-out, and an easy return bin at the office. It was a thriving circular reuse system.

And then March arrived, as did COVID-19, and our operations came to a screeching halt. As employees were instructed to work-from-home and many restaurant partners closed their doors, we had to adapt quickly. We had always wanted to tackle food delivery, but we didn’t expect to focus on it so soon. Luckily, our team is stacked with passionate superhumans dedicated to solving the waste crisis, and within a month, we were delivering cold, restaurant-prepared meals to our customers, all in reusable containers that we pick up and wash. It’s been exciting to explore this new space, and with single-use plastics increasing 250-300% during COVID, we are adamant that we must solve this packaging problem on a large scale.

As we talk to companies that we’d been working with prior to COVID, we have been receiving a lot of similar questions. We thought we’d share our knowledge and aggregate learnings about how companies are handling returning to work safely and sustainably! 

How to return to work — without all the single-use plastic:

  1. Self-bussing: Create a self-bussing station or reusable return bins for all reusable foodware. 
  2. Dishwashing: If your office doesn’t have a dishwasher, partner with a foodware service provider like DishJoy or DishCraft to get reusable take-out boxes and cups in your office and have those items washed off-site 
  3. Boxed Lunches: If there is a cafeteria, have the food service employees plate meals individually into the reusable take-out boxes for pick-up by employees. Stainless steel lunchboxes are available from ecolunchbox, ReVessel, and U-Konserve. Stagger employee pick-up windows to limit foot traffic to the cafeteria.
  4. Cutlery: Offer a “mess-kit” for employees when entering the building. This could be a clean cup, with cutlery and a napkin, for the employee to use for the day. At the end of the day, the employee can deposit at the self-bussing station or reusable bin. If reusable cutlery is not desirable, offer single-use wooden chopsticks instead of plastic or bioplastic cutlery as the “best” alternative.
  5. Water: Provide additional clean cups/ water bottles for employees and have a contactless refill station (e.g. Elkay).
  6. Foodware: Store reusable foodware in open cabinets (no door), or on the counter.
  7. Coffee & Tea!: Order mason jars of cold brew or chai from Dispatch Goods; enjoy it and we’ll pick up the empty jars on a daily basis. If you have a coffee attendant, have them pour it directly into clean cups and deposit it at the self-bussing station.
  8. Bulk bins of treats/snacks: If there are cafeteria personnel, request that they pre-package treats/snacks in mason jars for pick-up. 
  9. Catering: Cater lunches from Dispatch Goods; receive individual restaurant meals in reusable containers, which we’ll then pick up and wash later that day. 
  10. Take Out: Look out for Ritual.co to soon offer meals and coffee in reusable containers for pick-up orders at restaurants and cafes near your office.  

This is a compilation of the best strategies we’ve uncovered when talking to businesses, so take from it only what you deem safe and applicable! We will be holding a panel to take a deep dive into “returning to work safely and sustainably” at the end of July. If you’d like to be notified of the details of this event, please visit dispatchgoods.com and sign up for the newsletter.

Co-authored by Jessica Heiges, Chief Sustainability Officer, and Lindsey Hoell, CEO of Dispatch Goods

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