By Krithika Layagala
Every week of the Plastic Free Challenge, we like to highlight additional voices in the Plastic Free and Zero Waste movements. Today we hear from Krithika Layagala, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology and one of the leaders of the Eco Teen Action Network’s Plastics Hub. The goal of the Plastics Hub is to address UN Sustainable Development Goal #12—responsible consumption and production—by engaging a global community of teens to take action toward reducing single-use plastics.
For the past two years, I have been working with fellow members of the Eco Teen Action Network’s Plastics Hub and our mentor, Miriam Gennari, who is executive producer of the SustainableScoop and the StyrofoamMom movie, to address the problem of single-use plastic. Our current project is to implement a reusable to-go box system in DC metro area restaurants.
We are hoping to bring this program to Fairfax by talking to businesses, universities, organizations, and the Fairfax County government. The reusable to-go box is a clamshell-style container made from durable, sturdy #5 plastic. Customers visiting a participating restaurant have the option of asking for their order to come in a reusable box. When the customers finish using the reusable to-go container, they return it to the nearest drop-off location, which is at or near the restaurant. The used boxes are collected weekly by electric vehicles or bicycles to keep emissions low. The boxes are then cleaned at a laundering facility or by the dishwasher at the restaurant and then redistributed to participating vendors for reuse.
There are various methods for tracking the boxes and ensuring they are returned. One method is a mobile app that allows customers to participate in the reusable to-go box service for a monthly fee. Participants use the app to “check-in” and “check-out” their boxes.
The Eco Teen Action Network targeted National Landing, home to Amazon’s new HQ2, as an ideal location to pilot a reusable to-go box program. Both the builder, JBG Smith, and Amazon have robust sustainability goals that align with a zero-waste program like this. We presented the reusable to-go box system to JBG Smith, BMS, Crystal City Bid representatives in July 2019. Next, we approached the local community. We presented to the Aurora Highland Civic Association and a joint civic association meeting during a discussion on Livability 22202. We submitted our plan to the EPA and were selected to present again—at the EPA’s 2019 America Recycles Innovation Fair. We made several important contacts during this meeting, including EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. Last fall, we won the Leaders In Energy Four Generations Sustainable Solutions Award for our work with the Eco Teen Action Network. On March 31, 2020, we presented our plan to Amazon’s Head of Community Affairs.
This spring, we partnered with Plastic Tree. Plastic Tree is a company, founded by our mentor Lara Ilao, that could take on the laundering, licensing, and transportation of reusable to-go box containers in a pilot program. We are still looking for partner restaurants to implement this system in DC and beyond.
Though Amazon chose not to implement the system at this time, we are still in discussion with National Landing leaders. We are sure that the system will start in DC and other locations, including Fairfax, thanks to our partnership with Plastic Tree.
The Plastics Hub is always looking for groups, businesses, and other organizations in Fairfax to pitch this project too. If you have ideas, contact us here.