Photo: Amy Reid From left: Kwantlen Polytechnic University students Carson Hewlett, James Anderson and Katrina Stevenson with sugarcane containers they’re selling through their Sweet Takeaways business.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University

Surrey ‘foam-free Vaisakhi’ initiative inspires ‘Sweet Takeaways’ business

KPU students launch business selling sugarcane takeout containers as alternative to foam, single-use items

A group of business students at Kwantlen Polytechnic University are hoping they can get local restaurateurs to sign on to a sweet solution to takeout containers.

Dubbed “Sweet Takeaways,” a trio of KPU Entrepreneurial Leadership students have launched a business as part of their program.

Their idea was inspired by Surrey’s “foam-free Vaisakhi” project, launched in 2018 by two brothers with a vision to see vendors at the annual parade ditch their foam for environmentally friendly sugarcane products.

“We got thinking a little bit about packaging and those kind of things that are common to our daily lives and one of those ways that we can personally reduce our own waste is through disposable products,” said James Anderson, one of the three KPU students who launched Sweet Takeaways.

The KPU students partnered with Baljit and Sarbjit Singh Sabharwal, who have created the Balsar Community Foundation following their efforts at Vaisakhi.

Just like the Sabharwal’s did with Vaisakhi vendors, the students have been seeking out businesses who will make the switch to “sugarcane bagasse” products that typically decompose within 60 days – a far cry from foam, which stays in landfills for hundreds of years. At Vaisakhi, it’s estimated such a switch could divert as many as three million foam items from ending up in the landfill annually, and the KPU students say they see the value of the move in the business world.

READ MORE: VIDEO: Surrey brothers work toward a ‘Foam-Free Vaisakhi’

Anderson said the idea made sense because many cities are eyeing bans on foam and other single-use containers.

“Vancouver has their own ban incoming in January and they’re going to completely ban foam, single-source containers,” he said. “We could see the difference in municipalities who are forward-thinking. Surrey is one of them that has that kind of ban tabled, but a lot of them are still in the stage of asking and eventually getting there. I think Richmond is going to switch soon as well. So it is a really hot-button issue and it is something that a lot of restaurants are conscious of.”

Before embarking on their business venture, Anderson said the team was a bit concerned about saucy products and how the sugarcane packaging would hold up. But he said they discovered the sugarcane containers held up for a day or two, and beyond that, food would need to be transferred.

“It works functionally for takeout restaurants,” Anderson explained. “A couple of restaurants that we spoke to had either previously tried different products, cornstarch being one of them, or even paper products. But this one was the one that we found was the most functional.”

One of the other students on the project, Carson Hewlett, said they’ve been targeting sushi restaurants to start. “But we’re not discriminating in terms of what types of restaurants were kind of going after. The bigger chains, they’re going to have suppliers for this stuff already but a lot of the smaller ones that aren’t dealing with those those kind of larger suppliers. They’re the ones who are looking for products like this.”

The business project wraps up as the semester concludes in December, but Hewlett said there are some restaurants they may connect to their supplier. After all, the project was all about making an impact, he said.

The third student on the project, Katrina Stevenson, said people are “realizing the power of speaking with their dollars”.”

“I’ve noticed in Vancouver, you’ll go into a coffee shop and they’ll charge if you want to take a reusable or a to-go cup and they’ll just donate it to like a foundation that helps with sustainability initiatives,” she said. “They’re putting some sort of fee, trying to incentivize people even though they’re still going to donate it, just to try and help people make that transition and so it’s cool.”

“The business community is kind of following what consumers are saying they want and consumers also being pushed by business leaders.”

Get in touch with the students at sweettakeaways@outlook.com.

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