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.
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.”
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.
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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