An Overview Of Our Solution
Habits of Waste, a Los Angeles based nonprofit with experience creating sustainable behavior change, has continued to grow and develop one of our most successful campaigns - #CutOutCutlery. Now in 46 states, this campaign works to convince food delivery companies to change their default setting so that single-use plastic cutlery is only provided upon request when users “opt-in” on the application. In addition, we are working with 150 environmental organizations across the United States to write legislation that makes plastic cutlery available only by request standard law in major cities such as New York and Los Angeles.
- Population Impacted 120,000,000
- Continent: North America
Every year, over 40 billion pieces of single-use plastic cutlery are produced with the sole intention of being used once and discarded. Due to their irregular shape and size, traditional recycling equipment is unable to process plastic cutlery. This means that a significant portion of the time, cutlery ends up in our oceans and landfills where it harms sea life and slowly breaks down into dangerous micro plastics and toxins that contaminate water and endanger the health of humans and wildlife. When ordering food delivery, most people are at their home or office, where reusable steel cutlery is available and preferable (per a food psychology study). The single-use plastic cutlery that is automatically sent with food delivery orders is unnecessary and a nuisance. Studies show that default settings are a huge factor in human behavior and most people do not change the defaults that are automatically provided especially by the technology we interact with such as computers and smart phone a
Describe the technical solution you wanted the target audience to adopt
#CutOutCutlery calls on food delivery applications to change the default settings on their applications to provide single-use plastic cutlery by request only. In order to communicate the changes we are requesting from the food delivery apps, we have created a digital campaign through our partners at SameSide. Using a link we provide, participants can access our campaign to quickly send pre-written emails to the top food delivery application companies, requesting they change their default setting for plastic cutlery and accessories. Once food delivery application companies adopt the changes, users can see the impact of their efforts on their favorite food delivery applications and will only receive cutlery upon request it. It is a simple change with massive potential especially since companies like Uber Eats just delivered their billionth order.
Describe your behavioral intervention.
There are two ways we encourage behavior change through our campaign. First, #CutOutCutlery makes it easier for users to curb the unnecessary use of single-use plastics. By giving consumers the opportunity to only request and receive cutlery when it is needed, we can help to reduce the amount of single-use plastic that is discarded and contaminates our water supply every year. This is a proven technique for driving behavior change. In the UK, organ donation was changed to an ‘opt-out’ system, meaning everyone is automatically registered as an organ donor, increasing the number of available donors immensely since people rarely change default settings. Second, we are changing the behavior of restaurants and their staff who fill orders from food delivery services. Before our changes were implemented, every order automatically received cutlery. Now, staff is prompted in the back of house so they know which orders specifically requested cutlery. We were able to work with UberEats to design these changes to reduce confusion and make the order filling process as smooth as possible.
Behavioral Levers Utilized
As needed, please explain how you utilized the lever(s) in more detail.
Choice Architecture: #CutOutCutlery prevents the formation of a ‘habit of waste’ by making single-use plastic cutlery an option, rather than automatically including it. This works on the consumer and seller side of the equation.
Material Incentives: On the consumer side, we made it easy for consumers to adopt sustainable practices by making them the default. Now, ordering single-use plastic cutlery requires an extra step. On the restaurant side, we have provided the tools to save money by reducing demand for expensive single-use plastic utensils in to-go and delivery orders.
Rules and Regulations: With the support of environmental organizations across the United States, we are working to pass legislation in key cities, such as New York and Los Angeles, making cutlery by request only the law for food delivery applications. If this were to pass in one major city, food delivery applications would have to change their default settings globally.
Describe your implementation
#CutOutCutlery was launched in 2019 as a digital campaign through our partners at SameSide. On the campaign page, we are able to share facts and figures that highlight the dangers single-use plastic cutlery poses to our health and environment, including the contamination of our water supply due to microplastics. Then, we provide access to pre-written emails that populate with the users contact information and allow them to send multiple emails to the top food delivery companies with the click of a button. The changes we recommend can then be implemented by food delivery companies with our support. Once the food delivery applications agrees to work with us to #CutOutCutlery, their default setting changes and plastic cutlery will no longer be provided to customers unless they specifically request it. Next, on the back end, restaurant staff can clearly see which orders requested plastic cutlery when they are filling them. Our key factor for success is determined by the number of food delivery applications / services that join the campaign as the default setting should be the same across the board in order to avoid confusion. We also track the number of participants and emails send to monitor campaign growth.
One major obstacle we face is the number of food delivery services each restaurant partners with. Currently, we do not have all of the food delivery services on board to #CutOutCutlery. This creates confusion at restaurants when an order from a service not participating in #CutOutCutlery comes through because it will not be clear if they requested cutlery or not. In order to overcome this, we are working with our current partners to pass legislation that makes the changes required and are using our online campaign to continue to petitioning the top food delivery applications to make the requested changes.
Describe the leadership for your solution. Who is leading the implementation?
Our campaign is run by the Habits of Waste team, which includes our founder and president, Development Outreach Manager, and Program Outreach Manager. This team is diverse in race, gender and age allowing for increased perspectives that make our campaign more inclusive and impactful. Our founder and program outreach manager are both women of color and our Development Outreach Manager is a gay man. In addition, we partnered with “Intersectional Environmentalists” to expand our perspective and contribute to this important cause.
Share some of the key partners or stakeholders engaged in your solution development and implementation.
We have taken several steps to include a wide variety of stakeholders in the planning of our campaign. After each food delivery company agrees to make the changes suggested, we enlist them as campaign partners to gather metrics and help us convince other companies to join the campaign. UberEats was the first food delivery applications to join us in this campaign. Next, Postmates signed on and has just announced that they saved 122,000,000 packs of plastic cutlery from entering the waste stream after just 1 year of participating in the campaign and switching their default setting for plastic cutlery. In addition, we have worked with local legislators and environmental organizations in Los Angeles and New York city to draft a bill that can be brought to the floor of the state senate. This bill is still in development, and we hope to have it accepted in 2021. Most importantly, each participant in our campaign becomes a key stakeholder when they send the emails to request these changes. The campaign is most successful when we have large numbers of participants emailing all of the food delivery companies consistently.
Who adopted the desired behavior(s) and to what degree? Include an explanation of how you measured a change in behavior.
We have sent nearly 4,000 emails through thousands of participants in 46 states and so far, Postmates and UberEats have implemented the requested changes on a global scale. After the change to plastic cutlery by request only, both companies saw a decrease in single-use plastic cutlery requests across their applications. Postmates recently shared that since joining #CutOutCutlery in October of 2019, they have prevented 122,000,000 packs of single-use plastic cutlery from being delivered unnecessarily. Our team at Habits of Waste worked with both companies to help the user experience be seamless and informative about the need for this new default setting.
How did you impact water pollution? Please be specific and include measurement methodology where relevant.
Plastic cutlery is one of the most common plastic pollutants recovered on beaches and in waterways. We have prevented hundreds of millions of pieces of plastic cutlery from entering the waste stream in just one year. Single use plastics are not recyclable. Instead, they break down into microplastics, which in turn enter our water supply where they release toxic chemicals and endanger our health.
How has your solution impacted equity challenges (including race, gender, ethnicity, social class/income, or others)?
Our campaign reaches any consumer who uses food delivery applications and helps them to create sustainable change by breaking a common ‘habit of waste’. When surveyed, the race demographics of our participants matched the United States, with 50% of people surveyed making $50,000 a year or less. For many years, limited access to sustainability education and opportunities have put low-income communities and communities of color at a disadvantage when it comes to ‘going green’. This campaign looks to ensure that inclusivity is a core part of our strategy. The changes we made at UberEats and Postmates went into effect globally, further increasing our reach to teach people worldwide that their daily habits affect this planet we all call home.
What were some social and/or community co-benefits?
It is estimated that the average person unknowingly consumes a credit card worth of micro plastics per week. By reducing the amount of single-use plastic cutlery being disposed of, we can begin to reverse the amount of micro plastics in our food and water supply. We were proud to sit in on a California State Water Board meeting to offer our expertise and push for regulations that help to define, measure, and therefore prevent, micro plastics in water.
What were some environmental co-benefits?
Plastic pollution harms the environment in many ways. From the ingestion of the commonly found single use plastic by sea life, especially birds, to the release of chemicals like BPA, which change the birthing patterns of endangered animals like sea turtles. In addition, single-use plastics cover the ocean’s surface and reducing sunlight at deeper levels, which can have profound effects on a variety of sea life.
What were some sustainable development co-benefits?
#CutOutCutlery shifts a habit of waste that costs restaurants thousands of dollars every year. By reducing the demand for single-use plastic cutlery in takeout and delivery orders, we can save restaurants a significant amount of money. Postmates saved their partners over $700,000 in expenditures on single-use plastic cutlery over this first year of implementation.
Sustainability: Describe the economic sustainability of your solution.
#CutOutCutlery is a relatively low cost campaign. We are able to run and grow the campaign with individual donations, corporate partnerships and private grants. In order to gain more exposure we depend on individuals to share the campaign with their network. It is a classic grassroots campaign using social media as the force to promote the cause.
Return on investment: How much did it cost to implement these activities? How do your results above compare to this investment?
For the first year, we spent just over $30,000 on staff fees, marketing and campaign development. This was easily covered by private grants, partnerships and individual donations.
How could we successfully replicate this solution elsewhere?
#CutOutCutlery is the first campaign to address single-use plastic cutlery pollution in such a distinct way. Other organizations have raised awareness to decrease plastic dependency but we understand that a key factor to changing individual behavior was to remove obstacles in our way. Since launching, we have expanded our efforts to include more kinds of waste, such as condiment sachets and napkins. UberEats included accessories in their initial changes. In addition, after the University of California school system announced plans to #CutOutCutlery across all of their campuses, we have started to partner with universities such as William and Mary and Arizona State University to implement similar programs on their campuses. This new push on campuses will require participation from a younger, college age audience as well as a new and updated marketing plan. We will also need to work with groups on campus doing similar work to ensure that we meet the individual needs of each campus.