Implementing innovative, zero waste business models is an important part of Toronto’s circular economy transformation and building a more circular food system.

The Circular Food Innovators Fund supports local small businesses (both for-profit and not-for-profit) to implement reuse systems that replace single-use and takeaway items with reusable foodservice ware that is collected and redistributed for further use.

The Circular Food Innovators Fund launched in February 2024. Applications are now closed. After reviewing dozens of applications for new or enhanced food and beverage reuse systems, we are excited to announce the recipients.

We look forward to seeing the following nine projects progress over the next year, contributing to the City’s goal of eliminating single-use and takeaway items in Toronto and achieving a more circular food system.

ChocoSol Traders (Zero-waste Drink Service)

Chocosol is an importer and manufacturer of chocolate and coffee with two free-standing retail boutiques and a strong presence at farmers markets. Their project will augment their current MUUSE returnable cup system by introducing their own “ChocoSol” reusable cup system at their St. Lawrence Market locations.

Circulr (Reusable Cups for Toronto Events)

Circulr is a reuse service provider that supports a wide variety of reuse activities including a grocery reuse business. Their project will expand their reuse service to events by renting out reusable cups at events across Toronto, with a goal of removing 50,000 single-use cups from the waste stream in the first year and doubling this amount in the next year.

Evergreen (Reusable Dishware Program at the Evergreen Farmers Market)

Evergreen is a national non-profit based out of Evergreen Brick Works that hosts a wide range of programming including the farmers market. Their project will expand on the reusable dishware program that was initiated at the Saturday Farmers Market in November 2023 by implementing a 7-day-a-week site-wide reuse system to eliminate single-use and takeaway items at the farmers market and other Evergreen events at the Brick Works.

Inwit Solutions Inc. (Reverse Logistics Automation and Vision Board)

Inwit is a zero-waste takeout platform offering catering services for the business-to-business sector. Their project will develop an advanced back-office platform to scale their operations by optimizing order processing, dispatch, reverse logistics management and inventory control. Additionally, the project will also support the introduction of carbon-free cargo bikes into their logistics operations, reflecting a commitment to a low-carbon, closed-loop system for reusable packaging.

Scadding Court Community Centre (Market 707 Reuse Initiative)

Scadding Court Community Centre is a multi-service community-based organization with numerous programs and services geared towards under-serviced, culturally and racially diverse groups. Their project will implement a new comprehensive and efficient food container reuse system at Market 707 and other community events to mitigate the problem of single-use food containers from participating food vendors and program participants.

Feed Scarborough (Food Hall TO)

Feed Scarborough operates six food banks and a ready-to-eat healthy meal program, as well as various personal and professional development programs that encourage and nurture self-efficacy and resilience. Their project will implement a new reuse system for takeaway containers at their recently opened food court incubator in Toronto (Food Hall TO).

Suppli Sustainable Services Inc. (Enhancing Suppli’s Reuse Program)

Suppli is building a circular supply chain platform for reusable food containers for restaurants and large events. Their project will improve existing operations by expanding their product lineup to accommodate a wider variety of food, setting up new routes to expand their geographic footprint, moving to a multi-partner logistics model to raise awareness, and improving the communication and return process to increase customer retention.

Wexford Heights Business Improvement Area (The Friendlier Eco Zone)

The Wexford Heights Business Improvement Area hosts the largest street festival in Scarborough, Taste of Lawrence, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2024. Their project will create a ‘Friendlier Eco Zone’ at the upcoming festival, where up to 20 vendors will offer reusable containers for food and drinks by charging a small refundable deposit.

York University (Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose)

York University is accelerating its sustainability commitments and is aiming to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040. Their project will implement a reusable food container system to replace the current single-use packaging for food and beverages at one or more food service outlets on their campuses with the aim of future replicability.

A reuse system can be operated by a service provider or a business selling food or beverages for delivery or takeaway consumption. In this business model, reusable foodservice ware is collected, cleaned and redistributed back for reuse by the business.

Reusable foodservice ware includes plates, bowls, cups, trays, glasses, straws, stirrers, condiment cups and utensils that are made of durable materials to stand up to frequent washing and reuse.

A reuse system may include not only the reusable foodservice ware itself, but also the infrastructure, such as collection bins and cleaning facilities, and support technology, such as mobile applications to coordinate reverse logistics of reusable foodservice ware or barcode tracking systems for the reusable foodservice ware.

The City will consider grant funding requests starting at $5,000 and up to a maximum of $35,000. A maximum of $250,000 of total grant funding is available under Phase One of the Fund.

The decision to fund all or part of an applicant’s request will depend on its alignment with the City’s strategic priorities, assessment criteria and overall demand for funds in the Fund, among other considerations.

Where the total cost of the proposed project exceeds $35,000, the applicant will be required to provide information on the other sources of funding that they have secured to implement the project. In this scenario, other funding sources must be confirmed at the time of the application. The Fund is one-time, project-specific funding and not an annual source of funding.

The City will not guarantee that the total amount requested by a successful applicant will be granted. The decision to fund all or part of an applicant’s request will depend on its alignment with City of Toronto strategic priorities, assessment criteria, and overall demand for funds in the Fund, among other considerations.

Before receiving any funds, successful grant recipients will be required to sign a Funding Agreement with the City.

For-profit applicants

For-profit applicants may be funded up to 75 per cent of the total costs of the proposed project to a maximum grant of $35,000. For-profit applicants must demonstrate an ability to contribute at least 25 per cent of the total project costs through a combination of financial and/or in-kind contributions. In-kind contributions to the project budget must be essential to the proposed project. The City has discretion to reject a proposed in-kind contribution to the project budget. Examples of eligible in-kind contributions could include the donation of office space or equipment essential to the project. Funding will be disbursed to successful applicants at the conclusion of the project when a final report (including receipts for expenditures) is submitted and accepted as complete by the City.

Not-for-profit applicants

Not-for-profit applicants may be funded up to 100 per cent of the total costs of the proposed project to a maximum grant of $35,000. Following the submission of a signed Funding Agreement with the City at the outset of the project, 50 per cent of the total grant will be awarded to the successful applicant. The remaining 50 per cent of the grant funds will be disbursed at the conclusion of the project after the final report (including receipts for expenditures) is submitted.

The following applicants are eligible for funding:

  • For-profit businesses, including business-to-business and business-to-consumer models
  • Registered charitable and not-for-profit organizations, including Business Improvement Areas and academic institutions

The applicant must be a business that provides at least one of the following services, or must be a Business Improvement Area or academic institution that is working with a business that provides at least one of the following services:

  • Food and beverage products for takeaway consumption, which may include food distributed by vendors at public markets and events; or
  • Food and beverage products for delivery, which may include catering services; or
  • Reuse system infrastructure for food businesses.

Reuse systems involving dine-in consumption are not eligible for funding.

The business must be a small business (i.e., less than 99 employees) (excluding academic institutions) and must be located within the boundaries of Toronto. Any services funded through the Fund must take place within the boundaries of Toronto, except for services being delivered by urban off-reserve Indigenous-led organizations which may provide culturally-based programming outside the boundaries of Toronto.

The City encourages submissions from businesses owned by women, visible minorities, Indigenous peoples and people with disabilities.

Proposed projects must be completed within one year and either:

  • implement a new reuse system; or
  • demonstrably enhance an existing reuse system

Projects are eligible if they deploy market-ready solutions, or solutions that are already in-market. The City will not be funding projects that involve research and development or prototyping, or that are primarily about education and outreach initiatives.

Reuse systems that are exclusively for dine-in consumption are not eligible for funding. Eligible projects include reuse systems:

  • where food or beverages are being provided for takeaway consumption, which may include food distributed by vendors at public markets and events
  • where food or beverages are being provided for delivery, which may include catering services

Priority will be given to projects that:

  • propose an innovative or unique solution
  • include multiple organizations that plan to work together to implement the project
  • deliver additional community benefits related to the food system
  • include sustainment plans to keep the project running after the grant term has finished
  • have a well-defined approach for promotion to encourage participation in the reuse system

Each grant recipient will be required to submit an interim and a final report using the templates provided. Recipients must submit receipts and/or other financial documentation with their reports to verify money spent on eligible costs in order to receive their grant payment from the City of Toronto.

Reports will be used to document interim progress and final progress that the recipient has made on their project with the funds provided, including any lessons learned. Where possible, lessons learned will be shared with relevant stakeholders, including other grant recipients. Grant recipients will also be required to track and report on certain metrics to demonstrate the impact of the funded project.

The reporting templates are provided so applicants can see what will be required of them, including the specific metrics the City will ask for.