Reusables

Case Studies

Listed below are case studies of the implementation of reusables programs from the food service companies Sodexo, SV Group and ISS. These case studies outline the need for reusables identified by each company, processes of implementing reusables, and the successes and challenges they faced in the process. Each of these case studies is unique in the population served and the processes they used.

SV Group’s experience implementing reusables in Swiss staff restaurants.

Dörte Bachmann
Sustainability Manager

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A need for reusables

Switzerland produces among the most waste per capita within Europe. Since 1970 waste generation has doubled to 700 kg (1,543 lbs) per person per year mostly due to increased consumption, but also due to behavioral change favoring more on-the-go consumption. Environmentalists and policymakers see an unnecessary spike of natural resources for single-use packaging and increased environmental pollution due to incorrect disposal. Many consumers are demanding either more environmentally-friendly packaging or reduced packaging.

Implementing reusables in canteens

The SV Group, a leading gastronomy and hotel management group based in Switzerland, is serving approximately 100,000 meals per day in about 300 staff restaurants throughout Switzerland. Around 5% of sales are take-away meals, mostly in single-use plastic containers. Besides replacing single-use plastic containers with containers from renewable resources (e.g. cardboard), in 2017 the SV Group decided to offer reusable to-go containers, using reCIRCLE products, a shared use system developed in Switzerland for Swiss-based food retail operations.

The reCIRCLE program offers four to-go containers differing in volume and shape as well as a beverage cup. All containers can be tightly closed with a slightly transparent lid. The containers are made of 30% glass fiber reinforced polybutylene terephthalate (PBT-GF30), the lid is made of polypropylene (PP). The containers can be cleaned easily. reCIRCLE guarantees that the containers can be used at least 100 times. 

Restaurants get the containers for CHF 10 (or about $10 US dollars) from reCIRCLE and charge CHF 10 to their guests when they opt into the program. When containers are brought back, the full deposit is refunded. The containers are cleaned by the restaurant to meet legal hygiene requirements and to ensure water efficient cleaning. Thus, for consumers, reCIRCLE can be used at no additional cost and with only little additional effort. Restaurants have additional costs for an annual fee charged by reCIRCLE and an increased effort for cleaning the containers, though they save on costs for single-use containers and waste disposal.

Due to the open return system, reCIRCLE provides high flexibility for guests as the containers can be returned in every restaurant taking part in the reCIRCLE system across Switzerland. It doesn‘t matter where the container was initially borrowed, though we notice that the containers are mostly returned in the restaurant initially borrowed.

Implementing reCIRCLE required the support of several internal departments to set up the cash point, accounting, marketing to inform guests about the new offer and the process, as well as training the SV Group staff. In the majority of the restaurants, reCIRCLE containers are offered in addition to single-use containers. Several behavioral economics studies showed that offering options for actions to consumers is more effective than dictating a certain behavior. However, in some restaurants, single-use containers have been completely banned by the companies who entrust the SV Group with the management of their staff restaurants. After a short time of discontent and complaints, guests became accustomed to the reCIRCLE program. Feared loss of sales did not occur. Today, a total of 1000 restaurants within Switzerland are offering reCIRCLE, of which 150 belong to the SV Group.

Challenges

Overall, the program is very well accepted by guests and our staff. However, it also brings a few challenges. In the beginning it took time and prodding by our staff to convince guests to try the reCIRCLE container instead of using a single-use box. Often guests still hesitate to use reusables as they don’t want to have additional effort to get their deposit refunded by returning the box. Or they don‘t like the appearance of the containers, which admittedly could be nicer. Too often guests forget to return the containers for several days leading to the additional effort of handling mouldy boxes. Nevertheless, the SV Group will continue to roll out reCIRCLE in more restaurants.

Sodexo’s WasteWatch REUSE reusable container program.

Leila Virji
Senior Manager – Sustainability
Sodexo Universities & Schools

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Sodexo’s WasteWatch REUSE reusable container program reduces waste and helps us achieve our Better Tomorrow 2025 commitments by replacing single-use disposable take-out containers with reusable containers. Each year, Sodexo managers are invited to WasteWatch REUSE training webinars, where they are trained on program best practices and can connect with our reusable container supplier partners, G.E.T., OZZI and Whirley Drink Works. All Sodexo WasteWatch REUSE programs include the following components to ensure safety standards and successful utilization of the program: 1) Local health department program approval, 2) Use of only Sodexo-approved meal takeout containers, 3) Follow approved distribution process for the containers, 4)  Communicate the program using marketing materials and in partnership with students, 5) Staff training for implementing and running the program and 6) Tracking of participation and waste avoidance.

The Covid-19 pandemic has raised safety concerns for using reusable containers, and many of our partner campuses have consequently opted to halt these programs. During this crisis, there has also been a huge demand increase for disposable to-go materials, causing supply shortages. Going into the new school year, Sodexo is reemphasizing the safety and resiliency of our WasteWatch REUSE reusable container program. Through our teams continued commitment to proper sanitization of the reusable containers, which are run through dish machines, the reusable containers are safe for use and may offer a more reliable way to expand to-go service. 

University Dining Services at the University of Vermont, managed by Sodexo, provides an excellent case-study for WasteWatch REUSE.  UVM launched their Eco-Ware Reusable Take-Out Container Program in the start of the Spring 2011 semester at two retail restaurant locations on campus: University Marché and Brennan’s, and has expanded to almost all locations on campus, including unlimited dining. From November 2020 – February 2020, students took 2,432 meals to-go using reusable containers.

2009-2010 pilot series at one retail location, University Marché, led the way for the successful growth of the program. The pilots really took off through the development of a partnership with an Honor College course and UVM’s GreenHouse Community, that brought in students to help customize the program for UVM. Issues addressed during the pilot phase included optimizing the correct container structure (the program includes both bowl and box container options), accountability for returning containers through a token exchange system (using a custom-made cow tag, just like those used in dairy farms, that is swapped at the register for an EcoWare container) and participation which was incentivized by expanding the program to an additional campus dining location and by finessing the reusable container discount(started at five cents, is now twenty-five cents).

The program was initially designed to be self-sustaining and as an opt-in program, where students could buy a container membership for $7.50. $7.50 covers the cost of the first container, the exchange container, the cow tag used for the exchange and some additional dishwasher supplies/labor costs of cleaning the containers. As the program took off, it became part of Sodexo’s service, and all first-time (including international and transfer students) were automatically enrolled in the program for free. If students lose their container/cow tag exchange token and want to enter back into the program, they are charged $7.50 to reenter. Sodexo has purchased $46,000 worth of containers over the lifetime of the program. Anticipated food cost impacts are mitigated by prohibiting carry-out during dinner (after 4:15pm).  

All Sodexo employees are trained on waste eliminating best practices, and cashier attendants at participating dining locations are provided a specific Ecoware Cashier Guide to ensure the program is effectively communicated and easy for students and Sodexo staff to navigate.

Every year the program is launched through collaboration with students to encourage peer-to-peer marketing. For the first two weeks of each semester, UVM EcoReps swipe students into the program for the first time (after the first swipe, they use a cow-tag), and students are provided an FAQ on the EcoWare program. Throughout the school year, ads run on our digital screens, and EcoReps continue campaigns encouraging student participation. Check-out the EcoReps video showcasing how students are stomping out disposable containers and Bring It Back video encouraging students to return the containers.

London-based ISS client puts reusables to work, slashes disposable cup use.

Helene York
Head of Social and Environmental Responsibility
Guckenheimer

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A need for reusables

As fast food and fast casual chains have grown in popularity, so too has the use of single-use, disposable drink and food containers. Nowhere is this more apparent than in London, where a dozen major coffee brands and sandwich shops as well as ‘express’ mini-supermarkets have dominated offerings for breakfast, lunch, hot and cold beverages, in public transit hubs and on High Street. But London is unusual is taking action against disposables: starting perhaps with #OneLess in 2016, the movement to reduce one-time plastic water bottles, and then other disposable plastics for food service, became a movement, with The City of London Corporation (city government) announcing a plan to eliminate unnecessary plastic waste in 2019, and banners posted throughout London. The eateries have developed policies to ‘tax’ consumers who don’t bring a reusable cup or drink onsite with a ceramic cup, and most have in-store banners announcing their programs.

One company’s successful approach to eliminating disposable hot and cold cups

Client XYZ of ISS, the Danish global services company, is a financial services company with a large facility in London and more than two dozen offices around the world. XYZ, who does not want to be named, decided to take a leadership position at their London offices to model what could be done in London and develop a blueprint for other offices. Their efforts resulted in a sustained reduction of nearly 70% disposable hot and cold disposable cups onsite. The elements of their program were:

  • Providing every existing employee with two attractive branded drink containers: one for cold beverages and one for hot. They used KeepCup for their hot cup which has cache as a premium brand. 
  • Making the same package available to new employees at orientation.
  • A message from the Managing Director, indicating support for the program, and his intention of participating fully. His message was of environmental responsibility, affirmed by a recent Board of Directors’ imperative about environmental responsibility, reducing ocean plastic, and proper use of natural resources. It did not touch upon economics.
  • Posters and communications were developed for the launch by the marketing department giving employees one month’s notice of the changes. 
  • Training ISS employees on elements of the program including how to talk about it with XYZ’s employees and business guests. (The cafe and coffee shop are not public retail spaces.)
  • Setting coffee and fountain beverage prices assuming that customers would use their own cups. A significant charge of 50p (approximately $0.56 USD) was added to any bill where a disposable cup was used. 
  • Employees were expected to wash their own vessels. 
  • More ceramic cups and saucers for coffee and glass for water were made available to business guests and employees who didn’t bring their own vessels with them and wanted to ‘drink in.’ 
  • Bottled water was eliminated and spa waters and taps were amply provided, free of charge to employees and guests; bottled beverages were reduced but not eliminated. 
  • Two minor point-of-sale (POS) functions were implemented: they added  a “tax” of 50p for opting to use disposables and they eliminated the 10p give-back to the consumer for bringing a vessel, their former program which realized no behavior change at all.

Why the program was successful

The ISS general manager was convinced that the company was able to change the normative behavior of their employees, which is essential to program success, because it became unacceptable for anyone to openly disagree with the policy since it had executive sponsorship and the MD was modelling the changed behavior. The messaging on public streets and transit also helped set expectations. The products they chose were attractive and ‘prestigious’ with small logos on them rather than the cheapest product on the market. Having vessels for hot and cold drinks was also key: people don’t like their water tasting vaguely like tea. Having employees ‘wash their own’ made the program simpler and less costly to operate.

Challenges

This kind of change typically encounters three big problems, all of which were anticipated so they could be addressed head-on: large-scale consumer adoption, providing for business guests, and reduced procurement income (especially volume allowances) for the contract catering company.

  1. Large-scale adoption was addressed with the Managing Director’s mandate and making the program easy for customers.
  2. Providing for business guests was handled in two ways: buying more reusables for the barista stations and break rooms, and encouraging teams to make a catering order for tea and coffee when they were having meetings. 
  3. Reduced procurement income was also handled two ways: an increase in catering revenue and a minor adjustment to the terms of the contract which guaranteed the operator would lose no revenue associated with that account.

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