- New York's DeliverZero is a zero-waste restaurant delivery service which packages food in returnable and reusable containers.
- The containers are made of highly durable polypropylene (plastic), which can also be used more than 1,000 times.
- In 2019, the city banned the use of polystyrene, with any business caught using it facing a fine up to $1,000.
Ordering restaurant delivery in New York City with zero packaging waste is virtually impossible — but three young Brooklyn parents are working to change that with DeliverZero, their new zero-waste restaurant delivery service that just launched in NYC. DeliverZero is basically a greener version of Seamless, allowing customers to order food from their favorite restaurants as per usual, but packaging the food in returnable and reusable containers. To learn more about how DeliverZero works — and the company’s plans to take over NYC delivery — Green Matters interviewed Adam Farbiarz, co-founder of DeliverZero.
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Farbiarz and his co-founders Lauren Sweeney and Byron Sorrells launched DeliverZero in November 2019 in partnership with eight restaurants, currently only delivering to the Park Slope and Prospect Heights neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Ordering from DeliverZero is just as simple as ordering from Seamless, GrubHub, Postmates, or whichever service you are used to — just visit the DeliverZero website, choose a restaurant, select your food, put in your address, and pay. A delivery person will bring your order right to your door — packaged in reusable containers.
There is no additional fee for ordering from DeliverZero — just a $2 deposit on each reusable container. As long as you return the containers within six weeks (which you can either do by handing them to the delivery person next time you get a delivery, or by scheduling a pickup with DeliverZero), you’ll receive your deposits back.
The containers are made of BPA-free highly durable polypropylene (plastic), and DeliverZero says the containers are microwave-safe, dishwasher-safe, hot-liquid-safe, and certified by NSF International, meaning they are in accordance with NSF's standards to be deemed suitable for food protection and meet sanitation requirements for the materials, design, fabrication, construction, and performance of food handling and processing equipment. They can also be used more than 1,000 times (DeliverZero will recycle any broken or worn-out containers).
“I’ve always been very interested in reusables … And I just got to thinking, how can we deal with the main source of food service waste, which is takeout and delivery, in the way we as New Yorkers eat, which is basically GrubHub, Seamless, Caviar?” Farbiarz tells Green Matters over the phone.
“The vision here was to come up with a way of inviting customers in a way that didn’t make them change their habits radically. I wanted people to be able to sit in their house, order food, and get as much as they want. They don’t have to have a subscription where they can only have one reusable out at a time,” he continued. “If they want lo mein, they get lo mein. If they want to throw some dumplings in, great, we’ll just give you another reusable container. You want 20 reusable containers, we’ll give you 20. I really wanted to come up with a model that met people where they are and that made them feel like, ‘Yeah, this is just like the way I always order takeout. This is the way I order from GrubHub.’”
DeliverZero is able to charge customers the exact same prices as its competitors by following the same business model they have all popularized. “We make money the same way all the big bad competitors make money, which is we take a commission from the restaurant,” Fabiarz says. “Our commissions are super duper tiny. And the reason our commissions are tiny is because we don’t have to spend tons and tons of money on advertising and recruiting customers, because customers actually want our service. We’re not in some kind of arms race with all the others, because we have something unique. The restaurants are effectively funding this program.”
Six of DeliverZero’s current eight restaurant partners “think that this is the coolest thing in the world,” Farbiarz says. “The system that we currently use is incredibly wasteful and frankly silly, and they’re like, ‘Wow, we might actually solve this … We’re pioneers!’ and they’re totally into it from an environmental perspective.” The other two restaurant partners have the attitude of, “Whatever, this is kinda cool, if my customers are into it, I’m into it. Maybe we’ll get some business out of it,” Farbiarz says.
Of course there are many benefits to working with restaurants that are zealous about reducing single-use plastic — but it's fascinating that two restaurants are working with DeliverZero because of the business opportunity, rather than for environmental reasons. Companies are starting to see the financial value in making eco-friendly business choices, which shows how the market is shifting towards sustainable packaging.
In January 2019, New York City enacted a ban on polystyrene (aka Styrofoam) takeout containers, coffee cups, and packing peanuts. Any NYC business caught using the material as of June 30, 2019 could face a fine up to $1,000. The ban was an important step for a shift towards more sustainable takeout and delivery packaging in NYC — perhaps it even laid a foundation for a company like DeliverZero to exist.
And even though DeliverZero has only been live since November, Park Slope and Prospect Heights residents are already embracing the new service. “The reception has been amazing. This is very buzzy, it’s very community-focused,” Farbiarz tells Green Matters.
Because of that positive reception, Farbiarz already has his sights set on expanding — both in terms of restaurant partners and in terms of geography. “I think the next step is to grow our footprint,” he says. “Get a few more restaurants in our current footprint, and then expand that footprint. We fully expect to come into Manhattan. Other markets are sort of on the longer-term horizon, but I definitely think taking over New York City, and then the New York metropolitan area — that’s definitely on the agenda right now.”
DeliverZero certainly holds the potential to become a leading eco-friendly alternative to Seamless — but the service is far from perfect. For example, the reusable plastic containers are made overseas in China and Taiwan; and DeliverZero is delivering food in single-use shopping bags until it can scale up and invest in reusable bags. But the company's cofounders are not letting any imperfections become setbacks. Instead, DeliverZero's imperfections prove that letting perfect be the enemy of good can prevent a lot of good from getting done.
“People are looking for solutions that are really, really darn good, even if they’re not perfect. So we came up with a solution that is really, really darn good. It’s not perfect, but it’s really, really darn good,” Farbiarz tells Green Matters. “Maybe Step 2 is to come up with a solution that’s perfect, or maybe even someone else comes up with a solution that’s perfect. But we’ve got to do something to get the movement in that direction. And I think that’s why people are rallying behind us, because we’re helping them make those choices that may not be perfect now, but are moving us toward perfect, and bringing us toward zero.”