The “Company Profile” is an Earth911.com series highlighting consumer goods and services making a difference through product stewardship and recycling. Products and services featured do not pay for placement and are not endorsed by Earth911.com.
For anyone who has ever tried to scoop ice cream with a plastic spoon or cut bread with a plastic knife, you know that disposable utensils have very practical limitations. But did you also know that most plastic utensils are not recyclable?
Stephanie Bernstein, CEO and Founder of To-Go Ware, realized just how detrimental to-go plastics were to the environment during a mundane college excursion. “The initial spark was when I was in my early 20s and went out for ice cream with friends. We were served in takeaway plastic containers, even though we were eating there. You could see that stores were switching to throwing stuff away,” she recalls.
While Bernstein never planned on starting a company to address this issue, she remembered the moment years ago in the ice cream parlor and seized the opportunity when she had the chance to start selling reusable bamboo utensils.
More Than Just Knives and Forks
Today, To-Go Ware sells everything you need to enjoy your meals on-the-go without any paper or plastic waste. Their line of products now includes:
- Stackable Stainless Steel Food Carriers
- Bamboo Flatware Sets
- Recycled Cotton Food Carrier Bags
Now 33, Bernstein started To-Go Ware in 2004 at the ripe old age of 28, and for several years she was the company. Bernstein hired her first employee in 2007 when she began working full-time as the CEO.
Reducing Everyone’s Forkprint
Single-use plastics such as the kind found in disposable utensils and many to-go containers are often not recyclable and are usually discarded after one use. To-Go Ware is encouraging consumers to stop using disposables by providing an alternative solution.
According to Bernstein, “We will never produce our items from a virgin petroleum plastic resource. We are trying to increase the lifespan of products and to discourage planned obsolescence by selling an ethically sourced item that is useful.” To-Go Ware’s employees in the U.S. and abroad are also paid a fair wage, and the company is a member of Green America and adheres to the organization’s strict ethical business standards.
To-Go Ware’s growing customer base is a clear sign that consumers are demanding products that are sustainably manufactured by businesses that embrace the ethos of the triple bottom line (people, planet and profit). Bernstein says there is evidence everywhere of our environmental woes, and consumers are clearly starting to respond with the power of their dollars.
“There has been a huge growth curve in people’s understanding of where products are coming from, and when you have an ethically sourced item, you have the type of business that in today’s climate will naturally grow,” she says. To-Go Ware grew 300 percent in 2007 and 2008, demonstrating that the market for sustainable goods may well be recession-proof.
To-Go Ware is in the process of launching a utensil wrap made from recycled plastic bottles and has already started selling a line of utensil wraps made from recycled plastic bags. To date, the members of the NGO (non-governmental organization) Conserve have pulled almost a million plastic bags out of the landfills in India to make the new product. Bernstein says, “We want to find ways to re-purpose and extend the life cycle of things that are already out there.”
Bernstein continues to work with her employees and partners to find ways to pull more out of the waste stream as To-Go Ware embraces a “cradle to cradle” model. The company will be expanding their line of stainless steel food carriers and will be marketing to parents who want to send their kids to school with a waste-free lunch.
As a maker of reusable products, it is clear where Bernstein’s loyalties lie. “Reuse implies reduction, and reuse is a better solution than recycling. Producing goods is generally resource intensive, but with a reusable item like stainless steel food containers, you can rationalize the time and energy it took. It can be just as resource intensive to make a paper cup, and it gets thrown away in three minutes.”