New York-based restaurant chain Just Salad plans to pilot its popular reusable bowl program for digital orders in the near future. The announcement comes as part of the fast-casual chain’s annual sustainability report, which was just released, and tracks company progress on making its business more eco-friendly.
If you’ve ever set foot inside a Just Salad, you’ll know the company’s line of colorful bowls made from heavy plastic resin that can be washed and reused on a regular basis. Just Salad started its reusable bowl program back in 2006 with the aim to cut down on single-use packaging for to-go orders. Customers could purchase a reusable bowl (mine cost $1 when I bought it in 2012), take it home, wash it, and bring it back for a refill each time they bought a meal from the restaurant.
In its most recent sustainability report, Just Salad said that sales of its reusable bowls grew more than 100 percent year-over-year in 2019 — then were abruptly halted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In New York City and elsewhere, reusable containers were banned from restaurants in an effort to lessen the spread of the coronavirus. Simultaneously, homebound customers switched to digital ordering and delivery formats, neither of which lend themselves to reusable packaging.
Now, in 2021, Just Salad said it plans to expand its reusable bowl program to serve off-premises channels like delivery. Under the new phase of the program, customers can order digitally for delivery and pickup. Food arrives in a Just Salad reusable bowl, which can be returned to any Just Salad location for cleaning and sanitizing afterwards. The phase is currently in beta and only available at one location, at the chain’s 3rd Avenue spot in Manhattan.
Just Salad told Nation’s Restaurant News this week that without any extra marketing done, roughly 30 percent of customers have already used the program since it launched earlier this year.
The expanded reusable program is one item on a growing list of initiatives Just Salad has around sustainability — an area the company was championing long before the pandemic. Another notable item this week’s report mentions is Zero Waste delivery pilot. In partnership with NYC-based company DeliverZero, the Just Salad location in Park Slope, Brooklyn offers delivery items in reusable containers. Customers have six weeks to return the containers to either a delivery person or at a Just Salad location. Multiple other NYC restaurants work with DeliverZero, many of them local businesses.
Hopefully that number grows, and quickly. If delivery and off-premises restaurant formats aren’t going away, nor is the mounting packaging waste problem, not if we don’t do anything to stop it. Restaurants account for 78 percent of all disposable packaging, much of it plastic. And plastic production has increased 200-fold since 1950, growing at a rate of 4 percent per year since 2000, with most plastic winding up in the landfill or ocean. Needless to say, our appetites for off-premises aren’t helping this problem.
In response, circular-economy-style delivery is slowly but surely making its way into the restaurant industry. Reusables are by no means the norm yet. However, major chains like Burger King and McDonald’s have various tests underway, which is encouraging for the industry as a whole.
Just Salad, meanwhile, has a number of other sustainability initiatives on the table, including its meal kit program aimed at combating both packaging food waste and a partnership with food “rescue” company Too Good to Go.