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Crystal Dreisbach’s GreenToGo Makes It Easier for Restaurants to Kick the Styrofoam Habit

Styrofoam has bugged Crystal Dreisbach for years, particularly Styrofoam takeout boxes at restaurants. It’s no secret that Styrofoam—and expanded polystyrene in general— poses a threat to the environment and to human health, yet it’s the go-to material for meals to-go across the U.S. Now Dreisbach, a featured speaker at the Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming Ignite Retreat, is using the power of social entrepreneurship to help restaurateurs kick the Styrofoam habit—and she’s going after single-use plastic, too.

As the founder of GreenToGo in Durham, N.C., Dreisbach runs an app-based social-impact business that provides reusable takeout containers for local restaurants. Once customers download the app and buy a subscription, they can order carryout meals in reusable containers from any of GreenToGo’s 26 participating restaurants and grocery stores. After eating their meal, they can drop the containers off at various return stations around the city; GreenToGo staffers then retrieve the containers, wash and sanitize them at a central facility, and redistribute them to the restaurants.

“We design waste out of the picture and keep resources local,” Dreisbach said.

this photo depicts both the GreenToGo reusable container and its creator, Crystal Dreisbach

Crystal Dreisbach developed GreenToGo reusable carryout containers to reduce waste and Styrofoam use in Durham, N.C.

In Search of Sustainable Solutions
Dreisbach’s success as a social entrepreneur certainly didn’t happen overnight. She previously worked as a public health researcher and began considering the problem of Styrofoam 10 years ago. “My job was to make sure that research didn’t just end up sitting on a shelf but was evaluated, meta-analyzed and applied to people’s real lives,” Dreisbach said.

“One thing that always bothered me was Styrofoam takeout containers. We had more than enough research evidence to justify not using them, yet we were still using them! It gave me a level of cognitive dissonance that actually kept me up at night. As I started reading more about Styrofoam, I learned how bad it is for human health, the environment and the local economy. I thought, ‘There’s gotta be a better way!’ Even though I was super-busy at my job, I decided that one thing I could do was write letters to restaurants.”

Dreisbach penned around 200 letters over two years, urging restaurant owners to look into alternatives to polystyrene-based containers. “When one restaurant wrote back to tell me that my letter spurred them to action and making a change, I knew I wanted to take it to the next level.”

Her solution—a reusable takeout container service—didn’t immediately catch fire. “I talked and talked about this to anyone who would listen,” Dreisbach recalled. “Most people told me it wouldn’t work, and some people even laughed. But I submitted my idea to a contest in a magazine in 2010 and won runner-up!”

The Durham Co-Op Market is a GreenToGo client, and Tobin Leigh Freid is also the newest member of Don’t Waste Durham’s board.

Feeling validated and motivated to keep working on her ideas to promote sustainability, Dreisbach in 2012 founded Don’t Waste Durham, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing consumer waste and encouraging sustainable practices. Durham’s own landfill has been closed for 25 years, so the city’s waste gets transported to another landfill in a different county. Anywhere between eight and 12 semitrucks make 200-mile round trips every weekday to haul off the garbage, with those trucks getting a measly 6 miles per gallon.

The only sustainable solution, Dreisbach realized, was to produce less trash—and Durham being a “foodie” town, reducing Styrofoam waste in restaurants was a good place to start. She worked closely with Durham County Health Department officials, business leaders and local citizens to fine-tune her idea for reusable food containers and, over time, won the backing of the community and the local restaurant industry.

To raise money, Dreisbach and her group of volunteers launched a $25,000 Kickstarter campaign in 2016. “When the campaign succeeded, we knew that the hardest part had only just begun,” she noted. “Yikes! We now had to actually design and implement the thing!”

To get community buy-in, she held public meetings at the Durham Co-Op Market and invited locals to contribute ideas for GreenToGo. “Everyone from city officials to taxi drivers to little old ladies were sitting in small groups designing each aspect of operations,” Dreisbach said. “What came out of these community meetings reflects how we run our business today.”

Promoting a Circular Economy
For all her success thus far, Dreisbach knows every service and product can be improved, hers included. GreenToGo’s containers, for example, are an off-the-shelf product also used in university dining halls, retirement communities and similar facilities around the country. “They are adequate for now,” she said, “but we know we can design and manufacture something better—containers that are designed specifically for a reuse system like ours, with superior durability and longevity, and made from safe, circular materials.”

GreenToGo currently has 26 restaurant and grocery store clients. That number should grow to 30 by the end of the year and will include a vegan meal-delivery service.

The company is working with materials scientists and packaging designers to design a product “that will help advance the circular economy,” she said. “GreenToGo believes that, whenever we make something, our obligation, out of respect for the limited sources we have on Earth, is to design it right, make it the best quality it can be, and use it again and again.”

Meanwhile, through her nonprofit, Don’t Waste Durham, Dreisbach also has her sights set on reducing plastic waste in Durham and is inching closer to that goal. She and her team have spent more than seven years researching and crafting legislation that would require most local shoppers to pay a 10-cent fee on single-use bags (both plastic and paper) at retail stores and restaurants. The goal is to encourage consumers to shop with their own reusable bags, thus producing less trash for the region’s landfills.

The Don’t Waste Durham team cleared a major hurdle last month when the local Environmental Affairs Board approved the ordinance, clearing the way for the city council to vote on it. But Dreisbach is playing the long game to maximize the legislation’s chances of passage. “If we chose to, we could now push this ordinance directly to the city council for a vote, no matter how long it takes,” she said. “We opt instead for first vigorously engaging other key stakeholders. From our experience, this produces the most buy-in and the highest quality result.”

Dreisbach believes city leaders will ultimately pass the proposed ordinance. “I expect success given the level of support among local legislators—after all, I’ve been talking to them about this for 7 ½ years!” she said. “I have high hopes that the bill will become a law. And as evidenced around the country, our community will get accustomed to this new economic signal, and trash prevention will result.”

And after Durham, Dreisbach hopes to take her proposal statewide. “We now have towns and organizations across North Carolina contacting us about formalizing their support. We intend to create a coalition or network of towns and groups that can use our Fee for Bags Package—the draft ordinance, advocacy tools, relevant research and any of our lessons learned—to start the work in their own municipalities! We believe that the best way to scale ideas that are good for people, economy and planet is to open-source them!”

GreenToGo customers can order their food in reusable carryout containers, which they can later drop off at designated return stations around Durham. The containers are then retrieved, washed, sanitized and redistributed to participating restaurants.

University Students Learn Social Entrepreneurship Skills at Sullivan Foundation’s Upcoming Ignite Retreat

Students from throughout the southeastern United States will meet in Asheville, N.C., October 18-20, to attend the Sullivan Foundation’s social entrepreneurship-focused Ignite Retreat.

Sullivan retreats are designed to immerse students in a series of targeted workshops that help them “ignite” ideas for making positive change in their communities or develop a social business enterprise or event that might solve or alleviate a problem.

this photo conveys the energy of the Ignite Retreat attendees

Ignite Retreat attendees learned how to build social enterprise businesses and made new connections and friends at the Spring 2019 Ignite Retreat.

“The Sullivan Foundation recognizes students and community leaders who have led lives with integrity characterized by service above self and service to their communities. We’ve presented awards each year since 1890 to outstanding students primarily. And since 1934, we have provided scholarships to deserving students,” said Steve McDavid, the Foundation’s president. “In 2008, we added focused programming, including the Ignite events, to foster social enterprise activities.”

Related: View a photo gallery of the Spring 2019 Ignite Retreat

Students interested in the Ignite Retreat may attend a series of workshops and activities and connect with many socially conscious, like-minded individuals from throughout the southeast and beyond. They may also choose from three educational programming tracks for the weekend based on whether they are just beginning their social entrepreneurial journey, have a set of social challenges they would like to learn how to address now, or have a specific social venture they would like to bring to life.

this photo depicts a self-empowered yoga instructor who will facilitate workshops at the Sullivan Foundation's Ignite Retreat

Ajax Jackson, founder of Magnolia Yoga in New Orleans, says that once you can get your body into an open and flexible, you can do the same with your mind.

Students can also pitch their projects to experienced social entrepreneurs, gain access to and get feedback from Sullivan Award alumni, and receive access to Sullivan scholarship funding.

Spud Marshall, founder of the co.space and innovation director at 3 Dots, will lead the Fall Ignite Retreat, along with Harrison Wood, program coordinator for the Teach For America Graduate Fellows Program. The event also will feature an impressive roster of dynamic, experienced facilitators, coaches, innovators and social entrepreneurs, including:

Holley Murchison, founder and CEO of Oratory Glory and founding partner of HOLI. Brands

Crystal Dreisbach, founder of GreenToGo and executive director of Don’t Waste Durham

Ajax Jackson, founder of Magnolia Yoga

Abhinav Khanal, co-founder of Bean Voyage

Reagan Pugh, founding partner of Assemble

Tessa Zimmerman, founder of ASSET Education

Chad Littlefield, founder of WE!

Interested students may purchase tickets for the Ignite Retreat until October 2. General admission is $425. However, a select group of students from the 70-plus Sullivan Network Schools may be eligible to receive a sponsored ticket. Meals and housing are included with admission.

this photo shows that Crystal Dreisbach is a social innovator with a unique product

Crystal Dreisbach, founder of GreenToGo in Durham, North Carolina, is also leading a campaign to reduce single-use plastic in the city.

For further information go to www.sullivanfdn.org/events or call 662-236-6335. To register go to www.sullivanfdn.org/ignite/#tickets.  You may also e-mail questions regarding the events to admin@sullivanfdn.org.

Related: Ignite Retreat speaker leads charge to reduce plastic waste in Durham, N.C.

The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation was founded in 1934, but its roots date back 60 years earlier when U.S. President Grover Cleveland and a group of other influential persons created the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award to honor those that inspire a life of integrity and service. Sullivan Awards have been presented to people whose lives of service have changed the world with little fanfare as well as those who have become household names – recipients include First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, and Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, to name a few.

this photo shows the fun energy that Chad Littlefield brings to his Ignite Retreat presentations

Team-building expert Chad Littlefield of We! helps groups of people engage in conversations that matter. (Photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography)

Sullivan Field Trip Offers Whirlwind Trip to At Least Seven Social Enterprises

Seven social-enterprise businesses have already been lined up for the Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming Social Entrepreneurship Field Trip to Raleigh, North Carolina, and more are in the works, according to organizer Harrison Wood.

The field trip takes place Sept. 13-15, 2019. For a rate of $119 per room, partner schools can use this link to book rooms for their attending students at the Holiday Inn Raleigh Downtown, located at 320 Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. To book by phone, they can call 855-914-1878 and reference Block ID “SUL.” Schools must book the group-block rooms by August 27.

Click here now to sign up for the field trip. The deadline to register is Sept. 2.

Students with an interest in social entrepreneurship will meet and learn from owners of a wide variety of businesses with a focus on social impact. Many of them are triple-bottom-line businesses – they generate a profit while also addressing a social need and benefiting the environment. These social enterprises include:

HQ Raleigh—Launched in 2012, this co-working community fosters entrepreneurship and collaboration. It has helped launch 500 start-ups in Raleigh, according to the company website. At its Warehouse District Location, HQ Raleigh creates a “collaborative environment that empowers high-impact, high-growth entrepreneurs to create purpose-driven businesses that leave the world better than they found it.”

Picture shows a selection of Reborn Clothing items for sale

Reborn Clothing creates an upcycling option for old clothes in your closet.

Reborn Clothing Co.—Emily Neville started Reborn Clothing as a sophomore at North Carolina State University to give consumers an upcycling option for their clothes and to reduce textile waste. The company takes used garments and repurposes them into new, useful items, including baby blankets, throw pillows, dog bandanas and more. Visitors to Reborn’s website can also purchase upcycled items made from scraps from the manufacturing process. These range from duffel bags and makeup cases to keychains, earrings and scrunchies.

CompostNow—This social business helps reduce waste by collecting food scraps from residents and businesses and turning it into compost for gardens. Customers receive a bin that can be filled up with any food scraps, pizza boxes, coffee grounds and paper products. CompostNow picks up the filled bin and replaces it with a clean one on each service day. Customers can use the resulting compost in their own gardens or donate it to farms and community gardens in the region. The company’s clients include individual households, restaurants and business offices.

this photo shows how young people are interested in composting

Volunteers spend some time creating compost for CompostNow.

A Place at the Table—This pay-what-you-can, breakfast-and-lunch café opened in downtown Raleigh in January 2018. A Place at the Table provides healthy food and community for anyone, regardless of their ability to pay. Payment options include paying the suggested price; paying at least half of the suggested price; or volunteering with the restaurant. Tips go to furthering A Place at the Table’s mission, and customers can also purchase $10 tokens to pass out in the community.

Carroll’s Kitchen—This foodservice social enterprise in Downtown Raleigh provides employment for women recovering from homelessness, incarceration, addiction and domestic violence. The Carroll’s Kitchen menu features contemporary comfort food in catering and grab-and-go services. Artisan items include mushroom toast and avocado toast for brunch, the Sausage & Roasted Pepper Quiche, seasonal soups, salads, and sandwiches such as the BBQ Meatloaf, the Pressed Roast Beef Wrap and the Turkey Brie, among others.

this photo shows the attractive GreenToGo packaging

GreenToGo containers can replace up to 1,000 single-use styrofoam boxes.

Don’t Waste Durham/GreenToGo—Crystal Dreisbach is leading a campaign to significantly reduce plastic and paper waste in Durham with these two operations. Through Don’t Waste Durham, she has proposed a new ordinance, recently endorsed by the city’s Environmental Affairs Board, that would impose a 10-cent fee on plastic and paper bags at retail stores, restaurants and grocery stores in Durham. She also founded GreenToGo, a reusable to-go container service for restaurant customers. GTG’s reusable carryout box has a spill-proof, durable design, and one box replaces at least 1,000 single-use Styrofoam boxes.

Bee Downtown—Founded by fourth-generation beekeeper Leigh-Kathryn Bonner, Bee Downtown installs and maintains beehives on corporate campuses in urban areas, helping to rebuild honey bee populations while providing turnkey, year-round employee engagement and leadership development programming to its partners. Clients have included AT&T, Chick-Fil-A and Delta Airlines.

this photo shows honey bees in action

Bee Downtown uses honey bees to teach leadership while also benefiting the environment.

Ignite Retreat Speaker Leads Charge to Reduce Plastic Waste in Durham, N.C.

A speaker at the Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming Fall Ignite Retreat is leading the charge to cut back on single-use plastic bags in Durham, North Carolina, and some city leaders are responding positively.

Crystal Dreisbach, the executive director of Don’t Waste Durham, convinced members of Durham’s Environmental Affairs Board to support her proposed city ordinance to reduce waste by charging shoppers 10 cents apiece for most single-use bags. The ordinance would apply to both plastic and paper bags. Instead, shoppers would be encouraged to bring their own (preferably reusable) bags. Some consumers would be exempt from the fee, including those who receive SNAP or WIC benefits.

Members of the Environmental Affairs Board voted unanimously to support to the ordinance, according to media reports. There are more hoops to jump, however, before the proposal makes it to the City Council for a final vote.

A post on Don’t Waste Durham’s Facebook page hailed the Environmental Affairs Board vote as “a small but significant victory for Planet Earth … There is still much work to be done, but this draft legislation has now passed through the first checkpoint on its journey to becoming a law.

A separate comment on the post noted that the organization has been working toward this goal for seven-and-a-half years.

NCPolicyWatch.com notes that the fee would be charged at the point of purchase in grocery stores, restaurants, clothing stores and delivery services. Stores would also be allowed to sell or give away reusable bags. Pharmacies would be exempt, along with hospitals and food banks, and plastic bags for carrying fruits and vegetables would not be covered by the ordinance.

Crystal Dreisbach is also the founder of Green To-Go, a social enterprise that helps reduce waste in restaurant takeout food.

Starting August 1, the state of Connecticut now places a tax of 10 cents apiece on single-use plastic bags. A full ban on plastic bags will go into effect in July 2021. According to the Hartford Courant, the bag tax will raise an estimated $30.2 million in the current fiscal year and $26.8 million in 2020-21.

Boulder, Colorado, has a 10-cent fee for plastic and paper bags, with store owners keeping four cents and six cents going to the city, NC Policy Watch reports. Portland and South Portland, Maine, charge five cents per bag, and so does Washington, D.C.

A number of states have banned single-use plastics entirely, as National Geographic reports. Vermont has a new law going into effect in July 2020 that prohibits retailers and restaurants from handing out single-use carryout bags, plastic cups and stirrers, and food containers made from expanded polystyrene. Hawaii, California, Maine and New York have all banned disposable plastic bags.

Additionally, at least 95 bills related to plastic bags have been introduced at the state level in 2019. Most would ban the bags or place some kind of fee on them. However, some are aimed at preventing local governments from enacting any kind of bag-related ordinances on their own.

Dreisbach will speak about her organization’s efforts to reduce plastic waste at the Sullivan Foundation’s Fall Ignite Retreat, to be held October 18-20 in Asheville, N.C. She’s also the social entrepreneur behind Green To-Go, a reusable takeout food container service in Durham that helps reduce waste related to restaurants.