Closing the Loop: Burger King Goes Green(er) in 2021

Burger King is going green—or greener, anyway—in 2021, starting today with 51 restaurants in Miami that will test new sustainable packaging, including straws, forks, spoons, knives, drink lids, Frypods (cup holder-friendly French fry packaging), Whopper wrappers and napkins.

The burger chain also plans to test reusable packaging created in a partnership with New Jersey-based TerraCycle, a company that works with the retail sector on solutions to eliminate plastic waste.

Related: Shake Shack starts testing sustainable, biodegradable straws and cutlery

Customers have to opt in to try the green packaging. If the pilot program is successful, the company has said it’s aiming to roll out its sustainable packaging nationwide in 2022.

According to Food & Wine, Burger King has begun testing green cutlery made from a plant-based plastic called cPLA. The napkins will be made with 100-percent recycled fiber. The Frypods consist of renewable, unbleached virgin paperboard.

The fast-food chain will also try out several alternatives to plastic straws, including paper-based and plant-based straws, as well as strawless lids. The company said it hopes to “eliminate up to 500 million single-use plastic straws annually from participating U.S. Burger King restaurants. This action alone would translate to the removal of 910 metric tons of greenhouse gases per year.”

Additionally, they’ll try out two types of sustainable Whopper wrappers—one with a 13 percent reduction in paper and another with a 34 percent reduction in paper.

At some point later this year, Burger King plans to test washable, reusable Whopper containers and cups. These cups can be returned by the customer through Loop, a circular package service and a division of TerraCycle. The containers will be sanitized by Loop and sent back to the restaurants for reuse, thus reducing the production of single-use packaging.

Related: This sustainable restaurant will top its pizzas with rejected veggies to combat food waste

This closed-loop, zero-waste solution will be tested in New York City, Portland, Tokyo, Paris and London. As with the pilot program in Miami, customers must opt in to try out the new packaging. They will have to pay a deposit at the time of purchase; once they return the packaging to Loop, they will receive a refund.

Burger King is trying out its greener and reusable packaging through pilot programs in order to test the products’ performance and gauge customers’ reaction. “By piloting solutions in restaurants, the brand is able to get direct feedback from guests on how the packages perform, make iterative changes with its supplier and build an implementation road map for the system,” according to a press release.

“The pilot will help advance Burger King restaurants’ sustainability strategy, building on existing commitments to reduce its environmental footprint and protect the planet for the long-term,” the press release states. “To support the sustainable production of packaging materials, 100% of guest packaging will be sourced from renewable, recycled or certified sources by 2025. While working towards reducing the use of virgin materials and single-use packaging, the brand is also tackling the challenge of improved waste diversion, with a commitment to recycle guest packaging in 100% of restaurants in Canada and the U.S. by 2025.”

California Governor Signs “World’s Toughest” Recycling Law Covering Plastic Bottles

The state of California struck a well-aimed blow against plastic pollution on Sept. 25 when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law that will require plastic beverage containers to be manufactured with recycled material—in amounts that will significantly increase over the next 10 years.

Companies that produce beverages—ranging from bottled water to sodas and sports drinks—will be required to use 15 percent recycled plastic in their bottles by 2022. The amount of recycled plastic must increase to 25 percent by 2025 and to 50 percent by 2030.

Plastics News said the legislation may be “the world’s toughest” law covering recycled content in plastic bottles, noting that it exceeds the European Union’s standards. But the online publication said legislators, under pressure from special-interest groups like the American Beverage Association, watered down the bill with “what some described as potentially significant ‘off ramps’ for companies to seek waivers that could limit the law’s impact.”

Plastic News reported that early versions of the California law required 75 percent recycled content in plastic bottles, but complaints from the beverage and bottle-making industry convinced legislators to soften the bill.

The American Beverage Association’s membership includes soft drink giants like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. Coca-Cola has already pledged to switch to 50 percent recycled materials by 2030. PepsiCo last year said it would increase the amount of its recycled content to 35 percent by 2025.

California currently requires glass bottles sold in the state to be made of 35 percent recycled material, while 50 percent of newsprint must be made from recycled content, according to The Mercury News.

The law’s supporters believe it will help boost demand for recycled plastic, reduce litter in waterways and roads, and lower consumption of oil and gas used to manufacture new plastics. “This is the most ambitious, aggressive recycled plastics content law in the world,” Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, told the Mercury News.

Out of the estimated 12 billion plastic bottles sold in California each year, about 70 percent are recycled, according to state statistics. Still, more than 3 billion bottles are not recycled and usually end up in landfills or as litter.

The problem of plastic pollution has been complicated by China’s decision two years ago to stop accepting many waste plastics for recycling. That left collectors of used plastic with few options for selling the material.

“We are doing a really good job of collecting things for recycling,” Murray said in the Mercury News story. “The difficult part has been finding an end-use market for it. This new law is about closing the loop. Now companies that manufacture the plastic bottles have to buy them back. They’ll have the responsibility.”

In a website post, Californians Against Waste said the law “has some characteristics that have made it a model [of] efficiency.”

“Like all bottle bills, the payment of a deposit by consumers (California Redemption Value or CRV) is the backbone of the program,” the post explains. “Consumers pay $0.05 for containers under 24 ounces and $0.10 for containers over 24 ounces. That money is returned to consumers when they recycle their containers or is ‘donated’ to a curbside operator or nonprofit recycler, depending on how the consumer chooses to recycle the container.”

“The CRV is essential to California’s high beverage container recycling rate and its low beverage container litter rate,” the post continues. “By putting a monetary value on the recycling of beverage containers, consumers are much more likely to recycle” plastic bottles rather than throw them in the trash or discard them outdoors.

The bill also requires manufacturers of beverage containers to pay a fee that goes to recyclers, helping them offset the cost differential between the cost to recycle that type of container and the value that type of recycled material fetches on the marketplace.

“Because the processing fee is much higher for difficult-to-recycle container types, like #3-7 plastic, California’s bottle bill incentivizes manufacturers to design their products with recyclability in mind.”

California State Assembly members Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, and Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, authored the bill.

“The time has come for companies to step up and help us be good environmental stewards,” Ting told The Mercury News. “By boosting the market for used plastics, fewer containers will end up as litter.”

Small Group of Volunteers Lead Charge to Get Rid of Plastic Straws in Jackson, Wyoming

Restaurants in Jackson, Wyoming, are making strides to reduce plastic waste and promote sustainability by cutting back on or eliminating plastic straws, with some help from a small but dedicated local group called Straw Free Jackson Hole (SFJH).

Pizzeria Caldera, which offers Neapolitan-style pies, made the switch to paper straws in the spring of 2019, according to the Jackson Hole News and Guide. The restaurant uses environmentally friendly straws from an American company called Aardvark in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Aardvark offers a variety of durable paper straws in different sizes for cocktails, bubble teas, milkshakes and malts as well as custom straws designed for brands and events.

Teton County, where Jackson is located, has adopted the principle of zero waste to conserve resources, save money, create jobs and sustain the health of the environment. As part of its Road to Zero Waste initiative, the city has committed to reduce, reuse, recycle and compost as much material as possible. At present, the county diverts—or keeps out of landfills—33 percent of discards and aims for 60 percent diversion by 2030.

Pizzeria Caldera is one of about 45 Jackson, Wyoming restaurants that have committed to reducing plastic straws.

Straw Free Jackson Hole, which consists of just five environmentally minded volunteers, have helped lead efforts to convince local businesses to ditch single-use plastic, especially straws. The group’s volunteer coordinator, Julie Deardorff, told the Jackson Hole News and Guide that about 45 restaurants are working to reduce or eliminate plastic straws.

“The only plastic single-serve items we still use—because they are extremely difficult to find replacements for—are portion cups and beverage cup lids,” said Chris Hansen, who co-owns Pizzeria Caldera with his wife, Miga Rossetti.

Other Jackson restaurants that have committed to reducing plastic waste include Hand Fire Pizza, Hatch Taqueria and Tequilas, Local Restaurant and Bar, Trio: An American Bistro, The Granary, and the White Buffalo Club. Some have made a switch to metal, hay and paper straws and bamboo stir sticks. Others only provide straws when customers ask for them.

julie deardorff and josh hirschmann of Local Restaurant and Bar pose in front of the restaurant's door where a plastic-free sticker has been placed.

Julie Deardorff, one of five members of Straw Free Jackson Hole, presents a straw-free sticker to Josh Hirschmann of Local Restaurant and Bar in Jackson, Wyoming.

Jackson restaurants that are reducing plastic waste receive door stickers from SFJH celebrating their commitment to environmental sustainability.

Due to its natural beauty and location in the Rocky Mountains, Jackson Hole is a major tourist destination. Deardorff wants visitors to be impressed by the community’s commitment to zero waste and promote similar initiatives in their hometowns. “Hopefully, someone notices when they go back to where they live, and they’ll think twice about plastic,” she said in the interview.

Jackson already has a city ordinance in place that prohibits retailers from providing single-use plastic bags, but straw reduction remains voluntary. Deardorff said plastic straws are “a gateway to thinking about plastics in general. It was totally true for me.”

Duke’s Imari Walker Uses YouTube to Explain Dangers of Plastic Water Bottles in Entertaining Fashion

More and more Americans recognize that plastic is a problem, but Imari Walker Karega, a PhD student at Sullivan Foundation partner school Duke University, has a knack for explaining it in accessible terms—and for dispelling myths and misconceptions about environmental issues.

And Walker gets the message out using one of the world’s most popular social media platforms—YouTube—through short, engaging videos that focus on the science of water quality and microplastics while also offering tips for getting into college and thriving while you’re there.

Walker earned her undergraduate degree in marine science from the University of California-Berkeley and is presently a researcher in the lab of Duke University environmental engineer Lee Ferguson. She studies the fate of plastic components as they break down and disperse in the environment.

One of Walker’s major worries: plastic water bottles. Many consumers believe bottled water is safer to drink than tap water—and they’re wrong. “The biggest concern is that you don’t know where that bottle of water has been before it ends up in your hand,” she said. “It could have been sitting in a warehouse or the back of a truck, in the heat—which speeds the plastic’s disintegration—for a long time. I worry about the chemicals and the microplastics that could be in there when you consume the water. And then we’re also polluting the environment with the empty bottle. It’s a double whammy.”

Part of Walker’s dissertation work is conducted at the CEINT Mesocosm Facility in Duke Forest, where she doses a simulated wetland ecosystem with microplastics to discover where they will eventually settle out. The water is full of the UV inhibitors that are added to plastic during the manufacturing process, Walker said, and the fish see tiny bits of plastic as tasty prey—and gobble them down.

According to Walker, the environment inside an animal’s stomach can cause some harmful chemicals to be released at higher concentrations than they would in seawater. She has used non-target mass spectrometry, a form of chemical forensic science, to find that high concentrations of surfactants, lubricants and biocides leach from plastic items commonly found on beaches, including balloons, trash bags, Styrofoam cups, and fishing line.

It’s well-known that some of these plastic additives can affect your health—like BPA, which can bind to estrogen receptors and influence bodily processes. The effects of hundreds of other plastic additives are still unknown.

But Walker said it’s difficult to make recommendations for alternativeslike reverse osmotic filtration systems in place of plastic bottles—when they are often expensive. “‘Environmentally friendly’ is not cost-effective,” she said. “It’s elitist, in a way, and it’s hard to encourage people to do good things when they’re not accessible.

On her Youtube channel, Walker delves into the topics she studies, including water quality and chemical exposure from consumer products. But the videos are not geared toward other scientists—instead, they’re produced for a broad range of ages and knowledge levels. “I feel like we researchers have been living in a little bit of a bubble when we go into our labs and interact mostly with other researchers,” she said. “The public needs to understand what environmental engineering is, what a researcher does, what our findings are and what the implications are for daily life.”

Her videos also focus on higher education, paying special attention to people in their teens who might be thinking about college. In recent years she served as a mentor for SENSOR Saturday Academy, which helps underrepresented Durham, N.C. middle-school students explore STEM through real-life water quality projects.

“For me personally, it’s important to communicate this work in a public-facing way because I didn’t see many black female environmental engineers—I’ve only met two or three, ever,” said WalkerI wanted to be that change and inspire others to think about this field.”

You can learn more about Walker at her website.

This article was adapted from a press release appearing on the Duke University website.

UK’s Better Nature Becomes World’s First Plastic-Neutral Meat-Alternative Company

Better Nature, a UK-based producer of tempeh, has partnered with rePurpose Global, a plastic credit platform, to become the world’s first plastic-neutral meat-alternative company.

“Due to the relatively complicated food safety aspect of tempeh production, it’s really difficult to remove plastic from its production and packaging,” said Amadeus Driando Ahnan-Winarno, co-founder and head of technology at Better Nature. “It’s something that really frustrates us as a team and we’re constantly working on. We’re particularly looking into how we could use recycled or renewable materials rather than virgin plastic. We’re making progress, but it will take a while to implement, so, in the meantime, offsetting the plastic we produce is a productive step.”

Related: Solving the single-use plastic problem with Emma Rose of FinalStraw

Until the company can reduce its own plastic usage, it’s working with rePurpose Global to contribute to the removal of the same amount of plastic from the environment that it uses. Better Nature makes monetary donations to rePurpose Global based on how much plastic it uses in packaging and shipping materials. That money is sent to rePurpose Global partner Waste4Change, a social enterprise in West Java, Indonesia. Waste4Change develops sustainable waste management systems to reduce the amount of trash going into landfills.

By supporting Waste4Change, Better Nature hopes to reduce the overall amount of plastic waste globally and ensure that it’s reused in an environmentally and socially responsible way.

Waste4Change also provides jobs for more than 140 waste management workers and their families in West Java.

Related: Oglethorpe University senior has simple solution to better protect Hawaii’s dolphins

Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian soy product made from fermented soybeans. It’s a staple protein and a major industry in Java, where it most likely originated centuries ago. Boosting the plastic recycling industry in Indonesia helps protect waste-management employees from inhumane conditions and low wages. The Better Nature initiative boosts these workers’ income by making hard-to-recycle plastics more valuable, the company says, while supporting an experienced recycling social enterprise.

“At Better Nature, our mission is to do things the better way—for people, the planet and animals,” said Elin Roberts, co-founder and head of marketing at Better Nature. “But the better way is not always the perfect way; it’s about making whatever changes we can to get closer to our greater goals. As a start-up, it can be tricky to implement all the changes we want to from the beginning, but we’re working hard to be as sustainable as possible. Going plastic-neutral is a step in the right direction for us, and one we want to encourage more businesses to take.”

Related: University of North Carolina research explains why sea turtles eat plastic

The Plastic Bank Turns Plastic Waste into Currency for the Poor

If you thought plastic waste was good for nothing except polluting our oceans and hogging space in landfills, think again. A Canadian social enterprise, the Plastic Bank, has turned it into currency, empowering individuals in impoverished developing countries to combat plastic pollution while earning money or credit.

Based in Vancouver, Canada, and founded in 2013 by David Katz and Shaun Frankson, the Plastic Bank pays people in Haiti, Indonesia, Brazil and the Philippines to collect plastic waste and bring it to collection centers operated by the Plastic Bank. There, the trash is weighed and checked for quality, and collectors receive money for their work, or the value of the plastic can be transferred via a mobile Blockchain app into a digital bank account for each collector.

Related: Bioplastics entrepreneur Julianna Keeling is helping save the world from plastic waste

The collectors can use the credit to pay for school tuition, medical insurance, WiFi, cellphone minutes, Internet access, cooking fuel, electricity and other essentials. They can also borrow against their credit, according to Katz.

The Plastic Bank’s collection centers also offer fresh food—most of it locally sourced and high in nutrition—and clean drinking water in exchange for collected plastic.

The Plastic Bank’s locally operated recycling centers turn the collected plastic into pellets that are resold to companies like the UK’s Marks & Spencers and consumer goods company Henkel in Germany. These companies repurpose the plastic to manufacture products made from what is termed Social Plastic. Social Plastic products include Henkel’s Nature Box Shampoo & Shower Gel and FA Shower Gel, the Spooked Kooks brand of foam surfboards in Australia, and eco-shopping bags produced by Marks & Spencers.

Related: Eager to create social change in your community? Join us for the Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Retreat March 27-29 in Wake Forest, N.C.

According to Plastic Bank’s website, its collectors have thus far recovered more than 18.7 million pounds of ocean-bound plastic.

this is a photo of a man sorting through plastic waste for the Plastic Bank

The Plastic Bank monetizes plastic waste while helping people in impoverished countries build a fair and steady income.

“Now we’ve closed the loop in our circular economy,” Katz said in a Ted Talk (see video). “Now, buy shampoo or laundry detergent that has Social Plastic packaging, and you are indirectly contributing to the extraction of plastic from ocean-bound waterways and alleviating poverty at the same time. And that model is completely replicable.”

At the Plastic Bank’s home base in Vancouver, individuals or groups can also bring in deposit-refundable recyclable plastic, Katz says. “And instead of taking back the cash, they have the opportunity to deposit that value into the accounts of the poor around the world. We can now use our recycling to support and create recyclers.”

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

In addition to providing a fair and steady income for collectors, the social enterprise’s recycling centers provide fulltime jobs, with managers earning up to $3,000 a year after paying their employees and other expenses, according to Global Citizen. That’s a significant income boost in a country like Haiti, where the majority of people live on under $2 a day.

As of November 2019, there were 20 Plastic Bank recycling markets operating in Haiti, where vast quantities of plastic waste litter the streets and shorelines and end up in waterways and, finally, the ocean.

this photo shows another Plastic Bank employee hard at work

The Plastic Bank operates plastic waste collection centers in Haiti, Indonesia, Brazil and the Philippines.

“Millions of people around the world already rely on ‘waste picking’ to sustain their living, and as a result, are marginalized and stigmatized by the rest of society,” Katz says. “By working to formalize their employment and paying premiums far and above their usual market rates, the Plastic Bank aims to reverse this pejorative characterization and acknowledge these citizens for the environmental champions they are.”

Katz also urges consumers to voice their displeasure with single-use plastic to companies that are adding to the plastic waste problem. “Every time you buy something with excessive plastic, every time you buy something with single-use plastic, you are voting for that to continue,” he told Public Radio International. “If you have some ambition about changing what is occurring in the ocean, then participate. There is a complete social media department at every one of those manufacturers and every one of those brands. They’re listening. So, reach out to them, tweet to them, email them. Let them know that you won’t stand for it and let them know that you want alternative packaging. They listen, and they will eventually provide what customers want. That’s what they do.”

Related: Edible bowls and plates could take a bite out of plastic waste

Some Airports Make Strides to Reduce Single-Use Plastic Water Bottles

Environmental activist Greta Thunberg gave up airplane trips to fight climate change—no easy feat considering the Swedish teen’s often grueling travel schedule. Now airlines and airports hope to prove they’re also dedicated to protecting the environment, starting with efforts to reduce single-use plastics in airports and on flights.

The San Francisco International Airport has led the charge in the U.S. with its Zero Waste Concessions Program. In August 2019, the airport became the first in the nation to ban the sale of single-use plastic water bottles. It’s a significant step considering that, according to CNBC, nearly 4 million plastic water bottles were sold at the airport in 2018 alone. The San Francisco airport now encourages passengers to bring their own reusable water bottles and take advantage of free water from hydration stations located around the facility. Passengers can also buy bottled water sold in recyclable aluminum or glass or in compostable packaging.

Related: Duke University professor proposes solution to breaking political stalemate on reducing carbon emissions

The airport continues to allow the sale of sodas, teas and juices in plastic bottles, CNBC reports.

Joining in the climate-change effort in September 2019 was the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, which announced that it was phasing out all single-use plastic straws.

Other airports around the world are also taking steps toward sustainability, including the Glasgow Airport in Scotland, which last February offered free reusable water bottles to all employees working in or around the airport. And the Airports Authority of India announced in October 2019 that at least 55 airports around the country would ban single-use plastic straws, cutlery and plates.

this photo shows an alternative bottle as airports ban single-use plastic water bottles

Reusable bottles, such as those created by companies like Klean Kanteen, provide an alternative to single-use plastic water bottles. (PHOTO BY KLEAN KANTEEN)

Meanwhile, as of Jan. 1, 2020, Dubai International Airport and Dubai World Central Airport pledged to ban single-use plastic items including cutlery, straws, meal packaging and bags. “Along with our partners, including global brands such as McDonald’s, Costa Coffee and Starbucks, we are committed to not only removing single-use plastics but in their place providing appropriate and, importantly, sustainable alternatives,” Dubai Airports’ Executive Vice President Eugene Barry told CNBC. Meanwhile, until better alternatives for plastic bottles are found, the Dubai airports will focus its efforts on bottle recycling.

Still, the aviation industry has a long way to go, especially since airplanes themselves contribute substantially to overall greenhouse gas emissions. The United Nations forecast that airplane emissions of carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas, would exceed 900 million metric tons in 2018 and then triple by 2050. Worse, according to the New York Times, the UN might be underestimating the threat. In the fall of 2019, the International Council on Clean Transportation reported that emissions from global air travel might be increasing more than 1.5 times faster than the UN forecast.

Related: This bioplastics entrepreneur is helping save the world from plastic waste

Worldwide, air travel accounts for about 2.5 percent of global greenhouse emissions, the New York Times reported. Furthermore, “one study found that the rapid growth in plane emissions could mean that by 2050, aviation could take up a quarter of the world’s ‘carbon budget,’ or the amount of carbon dioxide emissions permitted to keep global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.”

For its part, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has launched a three-pronged effort to reduce the aviation industry’s net carbon emissions to zero by 2050 by setting new aircraft standards, a market-based carbon trading program and operational improvements. Additionally, the ICAO called on its members to explore other ways to reduce their carbon footprint through electricity consumption, ground transportation, ground support operations for aircraft and fuel tank farms.

This Bioplastics Entrepreneur Is Helping Save the World from Plastic Waste

Bioplastics innovator Julianna Keeling thinks a lot about creating a healthier planet. It’s something she’s been thinking about most of her life. “My parents taught me to respect people and the natural environment,” she said.

Growing up near Richmond, Virginia, Keeling, a 2019 graduate of Sullivan Foundation partner school Washington and Lee University, took annual trips to Maine with her family. While hiking through Acadia National Forest, she said, “I would pause to press my hands onto the trunks of vibrant, strong trees and into the fertile soil, feeling its energy. I remember being in awe of the raw earth and feeling as though I was part of it. I’ve maintained that sense of being one with the planet since then.”

Keeling has turned that passion for the environment into a profitable business creating products that look and perform like plastic but break down like plants. Her company’s single-use bioplastic products are engineered to break down in sea and river water and the soil for consumers who want to reduce the nearly eight million tons of plastic waste polluting Earth’s oceans each year — not to mention the tens of millions of tons of land-based plastics.

Keeling began her business—Terravive, or “the Earth sustains itself”—in the spring of 2015 as a first-year student at Washington and Lee. But she had been thinking about and planning it since high school. “I was accepted into Henrico County’s STEM specialty program, and my first project looked at methylcellulose. As a result, I became aware of naturally occurring materials that could be as effective as plastics with similar performance characteristics.”

Related: Duke University student turns trash into stunning sustainable art.

Terravive is a supplier of biodegradable tableware (cutlery, cups and bowls), various sizes of straws, resealable bags for food, trash bags, shopping bags, adhesives (stickers and clear masking tape) and industrial films. Most Terravive bioplastics products will break down in 90 days or less in a residential or commercial compost pile, ocean, river or soil.

Terravive has rapidly established its brand as the preeminent supplier of green plastic products. “When people see the Terravive brand on any product, anywhere in the world, I want them to think high-quality bioplastic that is better for you and the environment,” Keeling said.

Keeling took a gap year between her first year and sophomore years to work in San Francisco, where she said she “learned valuable lessons from its vibrant technology ecosystem.” With help from the former chief of research and development for PepsiCo, Keeling learned how to find and work with manufacturers on biodegradable packaging products. She was focused on both sustainability and reduction of corporate disposal expenditures.

See a complete listing of Terravive’s bioplastics products here.

this photo illustrates the huge need for bioplastics that break down naturally in the environment

Bioplastics that break down naturally in the environment could dramatically reduce plastic waste worldwide.

Back at W&L, Keeling continued to work on her bioplastics business. After graduation, she became one of eight start-up company owners accepted into the highly competitive Target Incubator program.

“Target is a socially minded, brand-conscious and forward-thinking company,” said Keeling. The company wants to be more attractive to Gen Z and Gen Alpha consumers and strategically selects start-ups for the incubator program that are solving issues that Target faces. The four-month program combines virtual programming with an eight-week residency at Target headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota. During the residency, Keeling received mentorship, met with subject matter experts and participated in tailored workshops and team-building exercises, “all geared toward healthy, high-growth company operations while keeping the consumer’s needs forefront.”

Related: 15 tips for zero-waste beginners

In Richmond, she works with a second incubator program, Lighthouse Labs, that is focused on helping her build the Terravive brand and infrastructure of the business for sustained growth. She just hired an experienced entrepreneur as COO. Joe Swider is a mechanical engineer, graduate of VMI and a former U.S. Naval officer. He is working on corporate strategy, building out the team and operational infrastructure in order to scale the business. Currently Terravive supplies products to retail, restaurants, universities, government entities and other businesses.

Keeling stays hands-on with the business, often dealing with distribution herself seven days a week. She also oversees marketing and sales, focusing on extending the brand and the positive ecological impact of her products. “It involves hustling and calling people up. It’s not a hard product to sell,” she said, “because potential customers find they don’t have to spend more than they currently do on plastic products, yet they can have an immediate impact on the environment.” When taking into account the cost of disposing of plastic products, many customers can actually reduce their expenditures with bioplastics.

Balancing rigorous organic chemistry, biology and environmental studies courses at W&L and starting a company while in college was “really challenging,” said Keeling. “It was time- and resource-intensive. I sacrificed a lot.” She is grateful for the Johnson Scholarship, which “gave me the flexibility to choose what I was really passionate about.” The merit scholarship “afforded me the ability to take intellectual risks and really consider what I wanted to do with my life.”

Related: EarthSuds’ shampoo tablets could replace single-use plastic bottles in hotels

She said she appreciates the support offered by Robert Humston, John Kyle Spencer Director for Environmental Studies and professor of biology and her advisor. “He was awesome and awarded me the Earle Bates Prize,” given to a graduating student who has shown excellence in academics, co-curricular activities, and contributions to the campus and community.

Kim Hodge, director of sustainability initiatives and education, worked closely with Keeling on composting research at W&L. As a result, “I saw first-hand how Terravive products break down.” This winter, Hodge and Keeling will co-present their research at the U.S. Composting Council.

Finally, a Spring Term class that took Keeling to the Lakota Indians’ Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota taught her that “our time on earth is not just about making money. We are tied to larger systems—other people and animals.”

Keeling has taken her life’s experiences—from hikes in Acadia to composting at W&L to learning the interconnectedness between humans and the natural world at Pine Ridge—and crafted a purpose and direction in life that will not only sustain her but also will help sustain the planet. “We at Terravive have an opportunity to build a high-growth, profitable business that moves the needle and creates a healthier planet for future generations.”

This story was edited slightly from the original article appearing on the Washington and Lee University website.

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.

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. 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.