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It began as a lightbulb moment during the pandemic, when Earthware Reusables Inc. founder, John MacInnes, was moved to do something about the waste he and his family generated during a typical takeout meal. It has now turned into a worldwide first, in reusable systems.

No stranger to entrepreneurship, having directed numerous other businesses to success, John decided in April 2021 that his efforts should be directed towards conceptualizing a sustainable, reusable container program for restaurant takeout and delivery in Calgary. With an enthusiastic and loyal team, they embarked on the mission to stop millions of single-use takeout containers from entering the landfill and reduce CO2 emissions.

The Federal government’s ban on single-use items to combat pollution and climate change is also contributing to the demand for a solution like Earthware’s. Businesses are scrambling for alternatives to inexpensive single-use options, and consumers are exasperated with the misinformation about compostable/recyclable containers, most of which will end up in the landfill.

The pilot in Calgary began in the summer of 2021 after MacInnes personally made a hefty investment towards a reusable takeout container purchase and five restaurants jumped on board. This soon evolved into a membership program, not uncommon in other reusable programs.

Despite steady growth of participating restaurant partners, as well as the hundreds of members who joined the program, it quickly became obvious there were a couple of insurmountable roadblocks that would not sustain the program.

The landscape in Alberta is fertile for an innovative circular economy project. The province’s world-class beverage container collection system is the largest in the country and has an 82% return rate for bottles and cans. With ABDA’s support, 16 bottle depot locations are participating in the municipalities of Calgary, Banff, Canmore and Airdrie, where consumers can return their containers and lids for a refund of a portion of the deposit.

Our partnership with ABDA provides Earthware with central locations to pick up the containers for washing and sanitizing. But most importantly, it provides consumers with convenient locations to return them and collect their deposits. This agreement will allow us to easily scale our efforts into other markets and exponentially increase our impact in our communities,” — John MacInnes, founder of Earthware.

This fork in the road led Earthware to deliberations on the business model and container choice. After successful negotiations with the Alberta Bottle Depot Association and a new fleet of economically viable polypropylene containers, the pivot to a deposit-refund model would catapult Earthware towards becoming a global first in reusable systems. It is the first time an agreement has been made with a government regulated deposit return system.

Food service providers and their customers have enthusiastically embraced Earthware’s zero-waste takeout deposit refund model, officially launched in March 2023. Nearly 50,000 containers have been sold to 35+ restaurants and thousands of containers have been returned to bottle depots for refunds. With Earthware’s competitive pricing to single-use containers, providers can use Earthware exclusively for their takeout container inventory. Additionally, Earthware also promotes their customers’ business to a fast growing demographic of people who are looking to reduce their own waste and reward businesses who are doing the same.

Earthware’s traction with the deposit return model has seen revenue growth six times compared to 2022. They have stopped tens of thousands of single-use containers from going into landfills. With expansion plans set for Edmonton and remaining Alberta municipalities, and talks with the BC Bottle Depot Association, the goal of diverting millions of tonnes of single-use waste is well on its way to materializing.

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