Dear Restaurant, It’s not your fault… but

Dear Restaurants,

These past 500+ days have been painful for the entire world but particularly horrendous for you and your staff. I am writing from my home in Los Feliz, CA where I sit just a few blocks from about 25 beloved restaurants my community watched shut down, reopen for takeout-only, remove outdoor tables and chairs, put back outdoor seating, convert in-house dining space into to-go order assembly lines, put up mask signs, take down mask signs, repeat, repeat, repeat. It was hard to watch; it had to be maddening to live through.

One thing that really stands out to me is the way so many restaurants became grocery stores overnight, too, which was such a source of comfort for me in the early days of the pandemic when it was really difficult to get the basics my toddler relies on. You made it a little easier for me to keep things a little more normal for her and, for that, I owe you big time. 

It was heartbreaking to watch the constant pivots you had to weather not only because it forced so many out of work, but because those who were able to stay at work put themselves at great risk in the name of giving people, like myself, a break from cooking and a sliver of normalcy. Even now, we see the struggle you face trying to staff-up as things re-open (again). I say again, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. You adapted over and over again to keep your staff safe and paid, your doors open, and your community fed. 

But here is the thing: as we start to see the light at the end of this seemingly endless tunnel, it’s impossible not to look back and assess, as people do when they evade a calamity. Looking back will feel different for everyone considering the loss and pain so many have endured. Loss of loved ones, loss of jobs and loss of togetherness. I look back and feel angry, I want to do something, but it’s easy for me to go to a place of not knowing what to do. Because of my work, when I look back I can’t help but take stock of all the extra plastic waste generated over the last 18 months and quiver at the thought of its impact on our already-choking planet.

takeout trash

This past year+, with many leaving their homes only on occasion, we all got up close and personal with a very realistic view of how much waste we generate just living our lives. Tom Sietsema of The Washington Post wrote a jaw-dropping piece about his journey through ordering just take-out for an entire month, and what it looked like from a trash perspective. His description of the situation is chillingly poignant so please check it out. 

My point is, prior to March 2020, we didn’t necessarily see it all together and at once. The Amazon purchases were not as frequent (if at all, #shoplocal) so they didn’t leave giant heaps of cardboard, bubble wrap, and packaging awaiting trash day.  And we had way more control over bringing in our own reusables, opting for paper over plastic or better yet, just bringing in our own bags. Many frequented farmer’s markets more often and could avoid plastic baskets and of course, plastic-wrapped fruit from, cough cough, Whole Foods

But now we’ve all seen it, and it must be addressed as we get back to normal, or else the lesson will be wasted. Why? Because in 2020, food delivery apps like Grubhub saw their customer base increase by 35% (app downloads and account creations), and ordering take-out became a habit for a whole new customer base which experts say will likely be sustained in the years to come. 

Let me say this dear restaurant neighbors: 

  • IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT that the supply chain was strained due to the 50%+ increase in to-go food orders yOy, thus occasionally leaving you with plastic-only options that were necessary in the moment to pack the orders which were keeping your doors open,  employees paid and customers fed.
  • IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT that, in the early days when we didn’t have a grasp on how Covid-19 spread, the CDC recommended halting the use of reusable coffee cups, food containers, grocery store bags, etc. 
  • IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT that people, maybe even you specifically, see plastic and assume it can go in the blue bin and thus will be recycled and all will be well (most of it can’t). 
  • IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT that most plastic can’t even be recycled
  • IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT (and this is a biggie) that companies like EcoProducts spend a sh*t ton on marketing and “greenwashing” to convince you their premium price products are better for the environment when they are actually worse. It preys upon your trust while tricking you into doing something harmful. Honestly, it should be banned like any other dangerous substance would be. 
  • On a related note, IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT that customers, despite many caring about our planet, see these so-called eco-friendly products and are also convinced of good doing. 

But here is the thing, if you are reading this now… now you know. And it’s not too late to do something. We’ve dedicated our careers to this stuff and understand you don’t have the time to do the deep-dive into trash that we have. And honestly, we are happy about that because, selfishly, you keep us fed so please keep focusing on that, k?

hand holding reusable cup

Jybe is derived from the sailing term, jibe, which means to change course. That is what we are trying to do with takeout materials but we need your participation. We need you to trust that we do not have a hidden agenda other than ensuring that our kids inherit a world that’s not awash in plastic waste. Or, honestly, that our kids’ kids have an inhabitable planet at all. There truly isn’t a Planet B.

So what can you do? If you have companies reaching out to you in hopes of offering your customers a closed-loop system of reusables, please listen to them. Reply to their DMs, emails, and/or call them back. However you want to do it, just do it. From Dispatch in SF, M’Porte in San Diego to Deliver Zero in NYC, these companies are working tirelessly on the ultimate solution where take-out trash isn’t a concern anymore.

But we are likely years and years out from systems like these being available in enough places to actually make a difference. In the interim, and with restaurant needs very much in mind, we are here to help you find the most sustainable packaging options to help lessen your impact on the planet. We are not selling anything, though someday we’d like to figure out how to, we are simply doing the research, asking the tough questions, and ready to help you source the items you need to keep doing what you do best.

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