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Reducing Through Reusing: Eco Lizard provides reusable takeout containers for Tucson restaurants

Startup seeks to reduce waste and save money for restaurants across the city
Posted at 7:03 PM, Apr 24, 2024

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — A 2021 study published in Nature found that 44% of ocean waste came from takeout food and beverages.

But one area startup is ready to do something about it.

Tucson-based Eco Lizard launched their app this week and began a pilot program with downtown eatery Urban Fresh. Eco Lizard will supply the restaurant with takeout containers, which can be returned to an Eco Lizard drop box located in Urban Fresh, which is then cleaned and reused. 

“Eco Lizard was created to reduce the barriers to reuse by creating an easy solution and service for customers and restaurants,” says Co-founder Rocky Baier. “So they can just sign up through our program and we will handle the distribution of the containers back to the restaurant and wash them to make sure they’re safe.

The effort is a way to get people thinking about the amount of plastic waste that comes with ordering takeout, which exploded during the pandemic. Co-founder Stephen Menke says that the issue often goes unnoticed by customers.

“Some people don’t think about it at all,” Menke says. “It’s just like ‘this is what you do.’ But when you explain to them that there are other possibilities, they’re generally pretty supportive and excited about it.” 

During the height of COVID-19 pandemic, Urban Fresh realized they had another problem in addition to the virus.

“We did takeout only for quite some time,” says co-owner Dana Padilla, who runs the restaurant with her husband Chauncey Padilla. “We had window service. And that really brought home to us how much waste there is, how much containers cost.”

Eco Lizard tapped Urban Fresh as their first partner, with the two groups having similar views on wanting to reduce waste, along with costs. 

When customers order food through the Eco Lizard app, they can receive their orders in these containers and, when they’re done, return to an Eco Lizard drop box. 

“Right now we only have a drop box at Urban Fresh because they’re our first restaurant and our first location,” says Baier. “But eventually as we expand, they can return their boxes to any partner restaurant or any partner location.”

While Eco Lizard hopes to partner with more restaurants this year, their overall goal is much loftier.

“We are really trying to help the city reach its zero waste goals,” Baier says. “We want to be one of the businesses that help Tucson get to that goal.”

Baier is referring to Tucson's Zero Waste Roadmap, which aims to eliminate half of its waste by 2030 and eliminate it completely by 2050. 

In addition to restaurants, Eco Lizard hopes to add drop boxes to offices, college campuses and other places where people, and waste, gather. 

Those interested in giving Eco Lizard a try can sign up for their on the company’s website, with the first month currently being offered for free.