Photo: Imperfect Produce.

Whenever I get home to find my Imperfect Produce box waiting for me on my doorstep, I congratulate myself on being a good person. After all, the box is filled with surplus and “ugly” produce — that is, fruits and vegetables that are cosmetically flawed and can’t be sold in regular grocery stores — so by purchasing them I’m supposedly saving them from ending up in a landfill.

However, after I put away all my virtuous vegetables, I’m always left with a big, bulky box, often much larger than it needed to be to fit my single-person order. Sure I recycle said box, but I can’t help but feel like I should be doing something more sustainable than just shoving the broken-down box into my recycling bin and going on with my day.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who’s been feeling some guilt over my cardboard consumption. Today I got an email from Imperfect Produce announcing a new initiative in Seattle (where I live) to reuse said boxes by giving them to Seattle Food Lifeline. The non-profit uses boxes to pack up and deliver donated food to food banks and shelters. According to Imperfect, Seattle Food Lifeline currently buys all their own boxes.

But starting today they’ll be getting reused Imperfect boxes to help them shuttle food around. For the next month, Seattlites can leave their clean, non-damaged Imperfect boxes in the same places they were delivered and one of the Imperfect drivers will pick it up on their next delivery. The boxes will go back to the local Imperfect warehouse until they’re picked up by the Seattle Food Lifeline. According to the Imperfect website, the company is doing the same thing in the Portland area with the Oregon Food Bank.

Imperfect Produce got some serious flak last year when a New Food Economy op-ed accused the company of a) diverting produce that was intended for food banks (an issue that was found to just be a result of a typo on the Imperfect website), and b) putting local farms out of businesses by undercutting CSA business. Initiatives like reusing cardboard boxes could help give the startup some much-needed positive PR.

Photo: Imperfect Produce.

Which isn’t to say that Imperfect’s pilot program is just a marketing ploy. It’s actually a pretty smart move: Imperfect gets to close the packaging loop, shore up its sustainability image, and give the boxes to a good cause. I’m not sure how many people will actually remember to put their box out at the pickup spot at the right time, or that the boxes won’t get stolen or ruined before they get grabbed.

But despite my qualms, the whole “reuseable packaging” idea is a solid one — both financially and environmentally — that more companies should be taking advantage of. With the advent of the robot revolution, it could become a lot easier to do so. The CEO of Korean company Woowa Brothers has outlined the idea that food delivery robots should pick up your recycling and return them to their origin where they can be reused or properly recycled.

Maybe Seattlites will eventually be able to load up their boxes into wee self-driving Amazon delivery bots, who can shuttle them to a warehouse where they can be reused to send you more stuff.

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