Dear Neighbor,

What are two things New Yorkers will never give up?

Takeout and delivery.

They’re a trademark of life in the city. The reason? Being busy is a way of life here, and people are willing to pay a premium for convenience. The consequence? Single-use plastic and foam containers — which take between 500 and 1,000 years to decompose — are piling up in landfills.

Enter DeliverZero, a company dedicated to making takeout and delivery sustainable. Think Seamless and DoorDash, but with one major difference: Your food comes in 100% BPA-free plastic containers that can be washed and reused more than 1,000 times before being recycled.

Co-founders and Brooklynites Adam Fabiarz, Lauren Sweeney and Byron Sorrells launched DeliverZero last fall. Epicenter-NYC writer Jade Stepeney spoke with Sweeney about how the company is making sustainability in the food industry a reality in New York City.

Food from Brooklyn restaurant One More Charm in DeliverZero’s containers. Photo: Lauren Sweeney.

Sweeney, who formerly worked in a health food store, has long been interested in sustainability. When she had her daughter, she chose to use cloth diapers.

“I found that it wasn’t so hard,” she said. “There was a weird joy about cloth-diapering, saving jars and using dishcloths instead of paper towels.”

But as time went on, Sweeney found herself having less time to do those things; as a busy, working, single mom, she found that zero-waste became inaccessible. The contrast between the sustainable lifestyle Sweeney desired and what was actually feasible is something many people are familiar with. If they’re even thinking about sustainability at all, that is; only about 18% of NYC household trash is recycled.

“Most of us didn’t grow up thinking about climate change. We weren’t educated on it in school,” Sweeney said. “I’ve had casual conversations with people who are progressive and believe in climate change, but there’s still a knowledge gap between that belief and the impact waste has on our planet.”

Lauren Sweeney with DeliverZero’s reusable containers. Photo: @deliverzer0

To help bridge that gap, Sweeney writes a weekly newsletter called #ReadZero, with a roundup of news about climate, sustainability and tips to move toward living a zero-waste lifestyle. The goal is to motivate people to do something, and reducing waste in their homes is a good start.

DeliverZero makes the process simple. After placing an order online, you can either pick up your food or have it delivered. You then return the reusable containers to any participating restaurant or give them to the delivery person next time you order. If you don’t return the containers after six weeks, you’ll be charged $3.25 plus tax.

Food from Bombay Grill and Curry in Greenpoint. Photo: @deliverzer0 on Instagram.

With a simple business model and growing partnerships with restaurants, DeliverZero continued to expand in 2020 until the pandemic forced the team to shut down temporarily. It relaunched in June after the co-founders felt it was safe to resume operations.

Back in the field and checking in on partner restaurants, Sweeney said the impact of the pandemic was palpable. “The mood was very somber. People who are usually excited to see us were just sad.”

Out of roughly 100 — and growing — restaurant partners, only one is closing its doors. The restaurants DeliverZero works with were already set up for takeout and delivery; it was those that weren’t which struggled the most.

What was evident as restaurants started opening up again was the sense of community that kept their businesses alive.

“As New Yorkers, we’ve all been through something together. But restaurants have really gone through it,” she said. “Now there’s this sense of pride in having made it through.”
Find out if DeliverZero partners with a restaurant in your area by going to its website. Keep up with it on Instagram and subscribe to its newsletter, #ReadZero.

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OUT & ABOUT

Early voting: It started this past Saturday and runs through Sunday, Nov. 1. Surely by now you’ve seen photos of the lines of voters snaking blocks from poll sites and heard about people waiting hours to cast their ballot. Our tips: Bring a folding chair, snacks and water, and make sure you have a good podcast or book on hand. Alternately, if you’re not in line and live near a poll site, consider passing out water bottles and snacks. You do not need to apply to vote early, but must do so at your assigned poll site (which might not be the same as where you have previously voted), and be sure to check the hours, which vary by day.

Halloween is this Saturday, and contrary to it being “canceled,” it feels more important than ever — for parents and children alike. Collectively, we are all in need of a release, a distraction, a creative outlet and candy. Lots of candy. We already filled you in on the Brooklyn mom who created the pumpkin hunt and saved Halloween. Here’s what else is happening this week:

Boo at the Zoo: We would be remiss not to mention this Halloween classic. The Bronx Zoo is hosting its annual celebration, which is running every Thursday through Sunday through Nov. 1.  Advance tickets required.

A haunted house in your hood: What Christmas is to Dyker Heights, Halloween is to Prospect Park South (Queens readers, step it up!). Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire has been going all out on the decorations at his house at the corner of Albemarle and Argyle roads for several years, so stop by and check it out.

The library can be a terrifying place: At least on Halloween. Stop by the Leonard Library in Williamsburg this Saturday, Oct. 31, from 12 to 4 p.m., and check out its haunted garden. Wear a costume and expect to leave with plenty of great books, er, we mean treats. Learn more.

Trick-or-treat at Hudson Yards: The shopping center is holding a Halloween scavenger hunt daily through Nov. 1. Tickets are $35 per person and include a map, candy bag and mystery code that will unlock doors behind which treats are hidden. The entire experience is socially distant and touch-free. Learn more and reserve your tickets here.

What’s Halloween without a little horror: Sure, you could just turn on the news. But we recommend  going to one of the city’s original Covid drive-ins, Belaire Diner, and watching a scary movie on the big screen. Check out the schedule and reserve your tickets.

Smashing pumpkins: What to do with your jack-o’-lanterns after Halloween has passed? Astoria Park Alliance wants to turn them into compost for its tree canopy. Join the group this Sunday, Nov. 1, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Astoria Park for a pumpkin smashing contest. Costumes encouraged. See its Facebook page for details.


HOMEROOM 

Have you subscribed to our spin-off newsletter, The Unmuted, yet? Written by two veteran education journalists, it focuses on everything schools.

Blended learning opt-in: Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza of the NYC Department of Education announced on Monday that parents who would like their children to go from remote-only learning to partial in-person learning must register between Nov. 2 and 15. Those who do not opt in during that time period will remain fully remote for the remainder of the school year. Learn more about your options here.

In other schools news: Students at more than 100 schools in Covid-19 cluster areas returned to partial in-person learning on Monday morning. And don’t forget that next Tuesday, Nov. 3, is Election Day, and all schooling will be fully remote.

GIVE & GET HELP

Save the Strand: The iconic bookstore’s owner put out a plea to consumers last week: With revenue having dropped nearly 70% from last year, the store desperately needs people to buy its books. The pushback has been fierce (see comments on Twitter), but either way, the Strand is a New York City institution that we can’t bear to lose. Shop the Strand here.

An upgraded MTA … : The MTA map, that is. So don’t get too excited, but all the same it’s a step in the right direction toward every New Yorker’s dream of a reliable and efficient subway system. In the meantime, you can check out service changes, wait times and delays in real time on the new digital subway map. Have you used the map? Do you love it? Hate it? The MTA is looking for feedback (but, only about the map).

The David Prize: Are you a visionary devoted to making New York City a better place? Know someone who is? Consider applying or nominating an individual for the David Prize, which awards five New Yorkers $200,000 — no strings attached — to fund their idea. The deadline is Dec. 4. Learn more.

DAY-TRIPPING

This week we head upstate to Ulster County taking in the quiet, quaint town of Rosendale and the surrounding locales. There’s plenty to make a weekend out of it or a solid day trip. Cyclists and hikers alike will relish the 22+ mile long Wallkill Valley Rail Trail. You can park and get on at the Rosendale Trestle, which offers soaring views of the valley from 150 feet above the Rondout Creek.

Further along on the trail we stop to chill and descend into an ice cave. Famished after the walk, our next stop is Ollie’s Pizza in High Falls, offering excellent wood fired pies, ample outdoor seating, and the kicker: negronis on tap. On the way home we pull into Applestone Meat Company’s 24/7 roadside vending machines for ethically sourced cuts of lamb and pork to bring back home.

Stephanie H. Shih, Oriental Grocery, hand made and hand painted ceramics

LAST WORD

We want to see, hear, feel, support your art and response to this moment. To submit a poem, short story, artwork or any shareable experience, email us.

The real thing, and the ceramic sculpture side by side

This week, we welcome artist Stephanie H. Shih, a Taiwanese American artist exploring concepts of home, not just as a physical place, but also as cultural, generational, and emotional spaces we inhabit. Her work has been shown at Perrotin Editions (New York, NY), the American Museum of Ceramic Arts (Pomona, CA), and Wieden+Kennedy (Portland, OR), and featured by NPR, Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, and The Guardian. She lives in Brooklyn.

Through the lens of the Asian American pantry, my ceramic sculptures explore how shared nostalgia can connect a diaspora across geography, nationality, and class. For second-generation Asian Americans, the finite collection of imported grocery brands from our youth has become shorthand for parallel childhoods raised by immigrant parents. To meet strangers who have memories of eating the same can of fried dace——a small fish preserved with salted black beans——is to discover a sense of belonging. Replicating these kitchen staples in clay immortalizes both the shared memories and the feeling of finding the nonexistent homeland of Asian America.

Stephanie H. Shih, Hand-folded porcelain dumpling finished with a high-gloss 11% gold luster. Signed and numbered, open edition.

Since 2018, I’ve folded over 1,500 porcelain dumplings and sculpted a kitchen’s worth of instant noodles, soy sauce, Spam, and 50-pound bags of rice. The process of recreating the Chinatown grocery stores of my youth has itself become part of my work: crowdsourcing food memories from other diasporic Asian Americans, researching the packaging variations that have since been updated, and replicating labels with abundant fishing scenes from an oyster sauce I’ve used hundreds of times but never really looked at. The result is a pantry from the ‘80s——filled with fingerprinted surfaces and shakily painted labels——that looks at once familiar and hazy, like an old memory.

 

This newsletter was written by Danielle Hyams and Jade Stepeney. Photographs and design by Nitin Mukul and editing by Robin Cabana and Faye Chiu. Did you like it or find it useful? Tell a friend to sign up. Support our vendors, freelancers and efforts by making a donation to our tip jar.

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