Sep 22, 2021 - Food and Drink

Chicago's Baker Miller experiments with returnable takeout containers

A returnable takeout container with a sandwich and tater tots inside.

Monica’s lunch in a reusable container. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Like a lot of restaurants operating through the pandemic, Baker Miller in Lincoln Square has seen takeout orders go through the roof in the last 18 months.

But that also meant the bakery-focused eatery was sending a lot more plastic containers into the world.

  • "We were seeing them in trash cans everywhere," co-owner Dave Miller told Axios. "So we're like, 'we've got to come up with a better solution.'"

The latest: Last week, Miller introduced sturdy, returnable and industrially washable plastic takeout containers.

Why it matters: EPA data shows 10 million tons of plastic went to landfills in 2018 — and that was pre-pandemic. Plastic production and incineration also contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.

How it works: Last week, Monica ordered from Baker Miller online and chose the returnable container option for an extra $3 deposit.

  • Her turkey & cheese sandwich w/tater tots, container and tip came to $20.60.
  • When she returns the container to Baker Miller, she'll drop it in a designated bin for washing and reuse.
  • And while she's there, she can get $3 back or more food in another reusable container at no extra charge.

How it's going: Miller says they sold out of all 75 containers the first day.

  • But this week only about 20% of customers are asking for them.
  • Only a few people have returned them for a refill or refund so far.

What's next: Miller says he's talked to other local chefs who want to give reusable containers a try.

  • If more restaurants come on board, he'd like to create a network where customers can return their boxes to multiple spots around town.
  • Portland, Ore., and New York City have done it with some success.

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