M’Porte is a zero waste takeout solution South Orange County restaurants and customers can get behind

Written by: Molly Lockwood

Takeout containers are one of the biggest sources of single-use plastics waste for many consumers. By working directly with eco-conscious restaurants to make zero waste takeout accessible, M’Porte (meaning “to go” in French) is spearheading a revolution in the world of sustainable to-go dining in San Diego and beyond. The Surfrider Foundation caught up with Founder and CEO Brian Macdonald.

What motivated you to start M’Porte?

The idea was sparked from an experience I had at a drive-thru Wendy’s in San Diego. While driving home I reached for some fries to snack on, and I grabbed a straw first, then a spork – all this single-use waste while I was just looking for a french fry! I didn’t want any of these things. I didn’t ask for any of these things. And I realized that every single person is getting these things. So I set out to do something that would make a difference.

It’s so much easier than people imagine to start making a change. The challenge is to be persistent, to keep going and find out ways to work through objections and challenges.

Can you walk us through the new M’Porte subscription model?

Through our original exchange model, it cost $25 to purchase one of our stainless steel takeout containers and join the program. Our goal has always been to make zero-waste takeout more accessible, and we’ve found that the initial $25 cost can be prohibitive for some people and families. After gathering feedback from restaurants and individuals, we’re introducing the cheaper subscription model to make it easier for people to join. You pay a few bucks a month and can leave at any time, so if you’re just visiting San Diego for a few weeks, for example, you can eat zero waste with M’Porte during your trip. We’ll also have annual subscriptions and gift subscriptions to make this easy and simple for everyone.

How can restaurants join the program?

New restaurants pay a setup fee to cover the cost of the containers, then a monthly fee based on how much access they need and what makes sense for them. Ideally, we want to make this as cost effective as a styrofoam container or a compostable container for restaurants.

What is most attractive about M’Porte from the perspective of restaurants?

One of the factors is access to an intensely loyal customer base. They’re going to keep bringing their containers back over and over again because they love the food, and they love that they can be zero waste. Viewpoint Brewing, one of our participating restaurants, has a hardcore set of M’Porte users that come back every week! Beyond customer loyalty, M’Porte gives restaurants an opportunity to showcase the efforts they’re making to be environmentally friendly. People will show up to support that.

Old habits die hard, and sometimes it can be difficult to change ingrained behaviors – even when it’s the right thing to do. What is the most effective way to get people on board with zero waste takeout?

There are a number of incentives to change your takeout habits with M’Porte. You get a discount on your order every time you use an M’Porte container, so with enough uses it will pay for itself. Individual restaurants can take this to the next level by designing their own creative freebie programs: for example, your favorite taco shop might give you a free taco every third use. You can also track how much single-use plastics they’ve saved by using the containers as a motivator to keep going. By breaking down some of the barriers to eating zero waste, we’re hoping to make this not only simple and easy, but also cool: a status symbol showing that you’re doing your part to care for our environment.

What is your vision for the future of this program?

In the near future, our goal is to continue gathering feedback from restaurants and customers to perfect the program. From tweaking the container design to making it easier and cheaper to join the program, it’s a collaborative effort with all of the M’Porte community to continually make this thing better. As we improve our model, we hope to continue expanding the program from our roots in San Diego and Oahu to South Orange County and further north.

What further policy changes needed to make single use takeout containers a thing of the past?

Policy has been totally influential on waste reduction efforts. There’s a law in California, AB 619 or the “BYO Bill,” which makes it legal for restaurants to serve you food in your own containers. In Hawaii, the requirements are more stringent: restaurants need to give you a pre-cleaned container rather than serving food in the one you bring. We’ve brought our standards up to the Hawaii rules, especially in light of public health considerations this last year, so you exchange your M’Porte container for a sanitized one each time you use it. This makes for a more regimented experience that’s more adaptable to varying policy environments.

Policy is a big part of what allows us to operate. It’s easier for us to work in cities where efforts are already being made, or where Surfrider has laid the groundwork to educate local restaurants about eco-friendly practices. Some cities, like Del Mar, have enacted styrofoam bans and “upon-request” rules for takeout containers. Having those policies in place turns on that lightbulb in the minds of restaurant owners. The more I learn about policy, the more I realize how impactful it is.

It’s so much easier than people imagine to start making a change. The challenge is to be persistent, to keep going and find out ways to work through objections and challenges.

Brian Macdonald