Meeting with local restaurants about sustainable take-out
by Hoony K., Global Development Studies student
Before you read about our project, I would like to ask you a question; How much do you know about our school’s unsustainable practices? Have you ever wondered where all of that trash went to? Just because the ayis take out the trash does not mean that trash is gone.
This semester in Global Development Studies, I was part of a group investigating take-out practices on campus and in our community. Jacob R. and I focussed on Jinqiao restaurants and opening a dialogue with the managers of these restaurants about using more sustainable take-out packaging.
Our first course of action was gathering information. Whereas the internal group focused on the “Why do Concordia students order take-out?”, we (the external group) focused on “What aspects of local food deliveries could be more sustainable?”
Our plan was very straightforward and simple: approach businesses and negotiate with them into changing their delivery practices. Of course, we knew it might be challenging to convince business owners to listen to two high-schoolers, so research was such a critical part of our project.
We first needed to determine which local restaurants were most popular for Concordia orders, and we were able to obtain this information from the data collection the rest of our group did in tracking orders overall. We observed that some big chains, such as McDonalds and YiDianDian, were popular but we wanted to focus more on small businesses in terms of opening up a conversation about making take-out more sustainable.
With that in mind, we decided to focus on Bollywood, Element Fresh, and the Legend Co (Pistolera, Big Bamboo, Blind Pig). Since we knew nearly nothing about these businesses and their delivery practices, we simply approached them, shared our ideas and asked to hear opinions.
We found that the three businesses had very different responses to our approaches.
The least supportive or open business was the Legend Co. Perhaps because we are high-schoolers, it was difficult to get anyone to return our emails and we weren’t able to schedule a meeting. The response was a quick but firm no.
Element Fresh was open and welcomed the idea of students like us trying to make a difference; however, despite the fact that the branch manager seemed into the idea of moving to more sustainable take-out containers and packaging, his superiors were not interested.
Bollywood was by far the most supportive and the closest we got to making a real change. Even from our first meeting, Mr. Sharma was very welcoming and showed us all the materials they use for take-out orders. After a short talk, his employee (who is in charge of the financial side of the affair) liked our idea of looking for sustainable yet inexpensive options.
One such item that we found was called bagasse, a biodegradable sugar plant fiber that could be processed in many different ways to serve many purposes including sustainable delivery packaging.
When we brought back the results and shared them with the businesses, unfortunately no one was interested in using bagasse take-out containers. This means that, overall, our main goal remains unachieved: to persuade businesses to switch to sustainable alternatives for take-out packaging.
Although we were not able to make tangible changes in our community, I do believe we raised some awareness in Jinqiao.
For the external group, I believe we made a change in people’s hearts. It was hard to find their requirements and even harder to be upfront with the businesses, but I do believe that it was worth it.
Our biggest take-away from this project is that persistence is key. It’s obvious that businesses wouldn’t be keen on listening to two high-schoolers about a business plan, but with enough evidence to back it up as well as enough attempts to show your passion, they might open up.
It’s true that delivery is convenient and often a better choice than school food; however, it is also important to consider the unsustainable trash that comes along with the food. While it is true that the best option is to ban deliveries completely, until then it is both the student’s and the business’s responsibility as fellow people to employ more sustainable means for delivery and takeout.