Already an alarming problem, the global increase in single-use plastics due to COVID-19 is reaching a critical point. Amid the pandemic, as digital food orders spike, there is growing concern among environmentally conscious consumers about the amount of waste generated. Finding a solution to mitigate this problem has become a priority for many of us.
The need is real. Takeout trash is the prime contributor to the estimated 11 million tons of plastic waste entering the ocean every year. According to the Washington Post, an NPD Group report claims digital orders in 2020 Q2 spiked by 127% compared to 2019 Q2. Grubhub had 27.5 million active diners/users by the end of 2020 Q2, which was up 35% percent year over year. It also notes that 71% of Millennials say that dining/take-out is their top expense, and, alongside Gen Zers, they are willing to pay more for products and services that prioritize the environment.
As a first step toward a long-term solution, four visionary entrepreneurs launched JYBE in the San Francisco Bay area and Greater Los Angeles in September 2020 as the first-ever sustainability and delivery app, enabling diners to prioritize their food delivery choices based on the use of Earth-friendly packaging.
App users are prompted to upload photos of their take-out packaging, then asked about specific details like whether items were compostable, the amount of plastic used in the order, and whether plastic utensils or Styrofoam were included. They can share additional details about the eco-friendliness of the packaging with other app users by submitting a review. JYBE provides an analysis and a score from one to four turtles, which further educates users while providing high-fives to restaurants making Earth-friendly choices.
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JYBE’s sustainability standard prioritizes specific sustainable materials – paper, aluminum, glass and renewables like bamboo and birch. The algorithm allocates points for the use of those materials, and deducts points for plastic, bioplastic and Styrofoam. Additional points are deducted when utensils are sent when not requested.
But JYBE also makes it easier for restaurants to make environmentally sound and cost-effective packaging choices through their JYBE Shop, which compiles affordable to-go products at an equal or lesser cost than the restaurant standard. Restauranteurs can simply select a category and desired items, review descriptions, item replacement and cost comparison information, then follow each link to purchase the items from various suppliers.
“Sourcing sustainable materials is a real challenge for restaurants whose primary expertise, after all, is in cuisine,” says Paul Kradin, co-founder and chief sustainability officer of JYBE. “A lot of materials have tenuous claims on true sustainability and are confusing to people who are trying to do the right thing but don’t have the time to do a deep-dive in the research. JYBE has created a store with curated products from a wide range of online suppliers that achieve a high level of sustainability and we invite everyone to check it out – if not to buy, then at least to see what to look for.”
To help restaurants try out the system, JYBE offers a Provider Playbook to guide them towards making more sustainable, affordable packaging choices. The company works with restaurants to identify the right items for their needs, then sends a free sustainability starter kit which includes information, sustainable packaging materials for a full evening’s to-go service, and connections to vendors to kick start their new eco-friendly practices. JYBE’s success has led to expansion into Seattle; Portland, Oregon; Austin, Texas; and Denver and Boulder, Colorado.
JYBE also offers various tools and resources to restaurants to encourage the use of more sustainable packaging through their restaurant partnership initiatives. For instance, there’s a simple swap option for those who already use sustainable materials, but still need to source a few key packaging items. This program enables them to try out new items to fit their needs, which will help them raise their JYBE score within the app as well.
“Even our little cafe’s use of packaging for take-out, which increased hugely with Covid-19, has an impact on the environment,” says Citabria Ozzuna, co-owner of Oakland’s Wooden Table Baking Co. “We do our best to source eco-friendly to-go packaging that can be recycled or composted, but there is still so much we didn’t know. JYBE not only surveyed our existing packaging to confirm just how Earth-friendly things were, but also sent us free samples of affordable, sustainable to-go products as well. JYBE has become a trusted source for us because they have an extremely high standard of sustainability and some great eco-packaging knowledge.”
Last month, JYBE teamed up with Los Angeles’ Italian neighborhood eatery Osteria La Buca to donate 1,000 sustainable takeout containers for “Pasta for the People,” a program that offers free pasta to anyone in need, no questions asked. Sustainability is one of Osteria La Buca’s core values, the partnership with JYBE has made the restaurant’s socially conscious effort even more meaningful.
Since the January market expansion, reviews within the JYBE app have grown by 35% and repeat user rate is up 44%, which is significant as “Jybing” is a new consumer habit associated with ordering food to go. “Looking ahead, we’ll expand nationally to every major city in the US, moving closer to our mission of reducing single-use plastic in the restaurant industry,” says Alison Diamond, co-founder and CEO.
“Our focus now is to consolidate our gains in users by more firmly entrenching ourselves in [our current] tent pole regions and developing strong learning about usage patterns that we can apply to the rest of our national rollout, reaching every restaurant-goer, garnering reviews, and fostering relationships with restaurants where we currently offer the app.”