How to Normalize BYO Containers in the US

Bring US Reduces to your town! This grassroots initiative connects environmentally conscious consumers with local businesses that accept personal containers to fill with take-out, bulk foods or cleaning supplies in order to reduce the packaging waste that overwhelms our cities and plagues the natural environment.

Roncy Reduces started it all

In early March 2020, while visiting my mom in Canada, I gave a talk on zero-waste living to a group in Toronto called Roncy Reduces. Tina Soldovieri started Roncy Reduces in 2019 to address the amount of plastic packaging waste she and her Roncesvalles (or Roncy) neighbors brought home from local businesses.

Even though Tina and her neighbors diligently placed recyclable plastics in the appropriate bins, in Canada, a mere 9 percent of plastics are actually recycled. (The rate in the US comes in even lower at 5 percent.) The remaining 91 percent of plastics pollute landfills, the air (through incineration and also microplastics), the land and waterways.

The idea behind Roncy Reduces is as simple as preventing plastic pollution is crucial

Businesses that allow customers to use their containers put a Roncy Reduces sticker in their windows, letting customers know they can bring their own (BYO), hassle-free. The group also lists these BYO-friendly businesses online and promotes them on social media and through events. As more neighborhoods in Toronto and other cities duplicated the initiative, the program evolved into Canada Reduces.

Homepage of the Canada Reduces homepage shows five women buying produce at an outdoor stand
The Canada Reduces homepage

I recognized the genius of this program immediately. Although I have shopped with reusables since 2011, when I approach an unfamiliar business, container in hand, I feel awkward making my simple request. I take a deep breath, plant my feet flat on the floor, stand up straight and practice the spiel in my head: “Will you please put my drink here?” and, to prepare for possible resistance, “I brought my own container to reduce garbage.”

A BYO Reduces sticker in a window serves as a beacon. I know I can bring my containers, no questions asked aside from “How may I help you?”

A black and white image of a young Oliver Twist holding up and empty bowl, pleading for more food
“Please sir, I want some more in my reusable bowl.”

US Reduces launches

On a summer day in 2021, I interviewed Tina for this blog. I complained to her that a few days earlier, I could not get a cup of tea in my thermos while I was out with my daughter MK. I said to Tina, “We need something like this here.” Then it dawned on me—I could start something like this here.

With friends, we signed up the first handful of businesses to Silicon Valley Reduces. After I posted about the program on social media, people around the US contacted me, asking for advice about starting their own programs. Soon afterward, with several of us operating groups, we needed a national site to provide resources for others interested in launching groups, to keep track of the groups and to organize together. US Reduces was born this month. (Thank you Yayoi Koizumi for driving the US Reduces project!)

How to get involved

For more information, watch a recording of our inaugural meeting

In the video below, you’ll hear short presentations from Tina Soldovieri, the founder of Canada Reduces, Angela Lian, Mark Simmons and Donna Patterson of St. Lawrence Reduces, Yayoi Koizumi of Ithaca Reduces, Stephanie Miller of DC Reduces and me.

Anthropologists will look back at our bizarre consumer culture with puzzlement.

Citizens of that dark consumer age could not order tea in their own cups at cafés. Up until its demise in the late 2020s, the fossil fuel industry continued its practice of paying politicians to permit it to pollute with impunity. The industry pushed increasingly large amounts of fossil fuel-derived toxic plastic packaging onto the people in an attempt to maintain record profits as the world abandoned oil and gas for energy and moved toward renewable, clean sources. Small groups of citizens organized, worked with local businesses and strengthened their communities as they fought for the simple right to drink from their own cups. In this effort, these individuals found joy.

Future Anthropologist

Please join us!

Check out my award-winning cookbook!

Learn more about my book here.

US Cover

3 Replies to “How to Normalize BYO Containers in the US”

  1. Well done to everyone concerned I hope this initiative spreads far and wide 🙂

    1. Thank you Carol. I hope so too!

  2. Let’s hope this gains momentum! I noticed Starbucks has a big display of refillable glass coffee mugs waiting for us, never missing a marketing opportunity!

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