The startup offers 10 types of reusable takeout trays and two sizes of cups for cafeterias, restaurants and food businesses. Friendlier incentivizes people to return food and beverage containers, rather than toss them away.
Friendlier, which is based in Guelph, Ont., uses a system similar to bottle return programs. Upon receiving the company’s reusable food and beverage package, the customer pays a $0.50 deposit with the meal. Before the customer returns the container to a collection bin, they can scan a QR code on the container with the company’s app, or input the code online, to get back the deposit. One to two weeks later, the deposit is returned through an e-transfer.
The packaging is returned to washing facilities in Guelph and Ottawa where it is sanitized and resold back to clients for later use, rather than being tossed into landfills.
Compass Group, a food services company with 2,100 locations across Canada and partners including Tim Horton’s, Starbucks and Subway, will debut Friendlier’s service at some of its Ontario locations in the coming weeks.
Supporting the circular economy
Founded by two chemical engineering graduates from the University of Waterloo, Friendlier grew out of a desire to foster the circular economy in Canada.
Jacquie Hutchings, co-founder and chief operating officer of Friendlier, said the idea for was sparked from co-op work terms with chief executive officer and co-founder Kayli Dale. The two were struck by the enormous amounts of waste from manufacturing in the automotive, chemical and food industries.
“We both just didn’t really feel good about the jobs we were doing at the end of the day,” said Hutchings in an interview with SustainableBiz.
Hutchings and Dale took inspiration from a four-month co-op term in Sweden, where they witnessed a culture that emphasized minimalism, awareness and social responsibility. The co-founders brought those lessons to Canada, seeking to challenge the linear economy that incentivizes throwing away packaging after using it.
The company says it has reused over 200,000 containers over two years, which Hutchings calculates is equal to offsetting the amount of carbon dioxide seven cars would emit for a full year.
Friendlier’s reusable containers cut 60 per cent of the greenhouse gases and 80 per cent of the water use compared to making a single-use plastic tray or cup, she estimates. It also diverts 100 per cent of the waste.
It specializes in the technology and data behind the reuse. Friendlier’s app allows users to see how much plastic waste was diverted and does not require a business to manage their inventory.
The Friendlier platform’s dashboard allows the startup to “get really granular” about the greenhouse gas emissions, waste, water and environmental savings of the companies it serves, said Hutchings.
The company’s app currently has over 7,000 users with 160 customers across Ontario. Friendlier expects its business to rapidly grow within the province, which Hutchings expects will be aided by the Compass partnership. There are ambitions for national and international expansion as well.
A chance encounter
Friendlier first had to face the COVID-19 pandemic during its early days. The inauspicious timing put a damper on the startup.
Hutchings said Friendlier planned to offer reusable cups for closed environments like festivals, hockey games and concerts. With the pandemic forcing cancellation of those types of events, Friendlier pivoted to takeout trays to accommodate a “soaring” demand for takeout meals.
A “fluke” encounter with a Compass representative at the Restaurants Canada Show in 2021 changed everything.
The conversation revealed that Compass had a client “desperate” for reusable plastic containers to equip its cafeterias. Friendlier’s products and service were “exactly what they were looking for.”
Compass has committed to a 2050 net-zero goal and minimizing single-use plastic at its locations.
“We are excited to partner with a local, female-owned company who has developed an innovative way to eliminate single-use plastic waste, which is something we use every day in our operations. Given our size and scale, this is a significant positive move in fostering circular economies and moving away from the traditional use-and-dispose method,” said Jana Vodicka, sustainability lead for Compass Group Canada, in a press release.
“The hardest thing about reuse is changing the consumer’s behaviour,” Hutchings said. “Everyone is very accustomed to the linear economy . . . What we’re challenging people to do is to value the packaging as much as the items inside so they’ll take it back and return it,” she added.
To educate clients, Friendlier offers a ‘complete change management plan’ to communicate its ideas to staff and stakeholders. It offers marketing materials and communications to deploy the program and align people with Friendlier’s adoption. Hutchings said once everyone is aligned, it “really works with the uptake and success of a launch.”
A looming Canada-wide ban on single-use plastics added urgency to the issue. She noted that brands, companies and manufacturers are all desperately seeking solutions to single-use plastic waste and “aren’t just looking to do the bare minimum when it comes to sustainability.”
Hutchings puts the impetus on consumers, who “want change and they want to feel good about the products that they’re purchasing.”
The company has done pre-seed investment runs through angel investor groups and is planning for a seed round in the fall.