Capsharing and returnable packaging: how to make food delivery sustainable

    05 Aug 2021

    Ordering food delivery? Surely you have heaps of disposable tableware accumulating. As a rule, the materials from which it is made are not really recycled and are sent either for incineration or to a landfill.

    It is clear that asking citizens to give up convenient food and drink delivery and takeaway for the sake of caring for the environment is pointless.

    Let’s check the review by the authors of the EcoWolk blog and podcast. They’ve studied the European experience of using recyclable containers. This is the dishes that can be returned and used to take away and for delivery many times.

    The returnable packaging system works like this: when a customer buys a product in reusable packaging for the first time, he simultaneously pays a deposit for the packaging (the deposit is included in the price). When he returns the container to the collection point, store or catering center participating in the program, he receives his deposit back.

    We have compiled a selection of the most interesting European cases to understand how such a system can work, what are its pros and cons.

    European experience

    RECUP, Germany

    Instead of relying on conscientious citizens who do not leave their homes without a thermo mug, RECUP has made a service for the average café visitor who does not gather when going out into the city like on a hike. The RECUP network unites 2,700 partner cafes in more than 450 cities across the country.

    How it works

    The visitor pays a deposit of € 1 for a reusable polypropylene cup with a volume of 200, 300 or 400 ml (a reusable but non-returnable polypropylene lid can be purchased separately). When returning a glass to one of the participating cafes, the visitor receives a deposit back. Finding where to drop off the container is easy in the app and on the website.

    Many establishments give a small discount to visitors using RECUP.

    Customer Reviews

    The reviews on social media are mostly positive and sometimes even enthusiastic. However, some users are unhappy that the cup lids are sold separately and are not always available. Some also wonder why glasses aren’t made from recycled plastic.

    Facebook rating: 4.7 / 5

    DabbaDrop, London

    We are fans of Indian cuisine and metal food containers, so we dream of enticing friends from London to subscribe to DabbaDrop services, come to visit them, so that we can see firsthand how it works.

    DabbaDrop delivers vegetarian Indian food in dabbs (stainless steel stacked containers) as is done in India.

    This allows customers to order food at home without feeling guilty about the disposable packaging.

    How it works

    The service works on a subscription basis (one dinner for two per week), which can be suspended or canceled at any time. When ordering for the first time, the user pays an additional £ 15 for the containers. Then, every time the customer receives a new order, they return the previous set of containers and receive the food in a new one.


    The menu changes every week and food is prepared only to order, thus avoiding food waste. In addition, delivery workers travel by bicycles. This is also a continuation of the Indian tradition of lunch delivery, which has been going on for 130 years: every year in India, Dabbawals (food delivery companies) deliver 80 million meals in such containers.

    At the moment, DabbaDrop’s client base has about 300 families from 5 London boroughs.


    All the reviews are very good. Many praise not only the sustainable concept, but also the high quality and variety of vegetarian dishes.

    Facebook rating: 5/5

    reCIRCLE BOX, Switzerland and Germany

    The Swiss project ReCIRCLE supplies catering establishments with reusable food containers that customers can borrow on bail.

    How it works

    The customer is about to take away food, sees the coveted ReCIRCLE sticker, pays 10 francs (it’s like taking three tram rides) and receives his meal in a reusable container with a lid. If this is a dining room, then the containers are right next to the plates under the counter.

    Then the buyer has three options:

    ·        You can continue to use the container – you just bought it.

    ·        You can replace your dirty container with a clean one in the same establishment or in any other participating in the project. The container may not be particularly washed, but there should be no food debris in it.

    ·        You can return the container to one of the participating institutions and return the deposit.


    All containers (there are also glasses) are made of composite material (70% – heat-resistant plastic and 30% – glass fibers for accelerated drying) and made in Switzerland. The company plans to process the used containers into non-food plastic. In addition, she is exploring the possibility of completely replacing the material so that new ones can be made from old containers.

    This is the only service from the entire list that we have used, so we will share our own experience. We like, that the containers are very tightly closed, they are easily recognizable (thanks to the corporate lilac color) and that it has become fashionable to use them. But they are too big. Yes, they are nice to eat, but you can’t put them in a bag or backpack in an upright position.

    Facebook feedback: 5/5

    CupClub, UK

    CupClub is an unusual service for hot and cold drink cups. What makes this solution unique is that it uses RFID technology to track the supply chain: cups, lids and waste cup boxes are equipped with beacons to facilitate shipping and collection on a large scale.

    How it works

    Participating establishments give the customer a choice: pay for a one-time glass or join CupClub by making a one-time payment of £ 3 via the app.


    Glasses and lids are delivered to cafes and restaurants daily. Used glasses are delivered and removed at the same time to minimize the carbon footprint, and small batches are brought in by bike. Glasses, by the way, are washed as economically as possible, so that less water is wasted.

    The cups are made from polypropylene and the lids are made from low density polyethylene. Both of these materials can be recycled. Life cycle analysis of CupClub products has shown that its carbon footprint is half that of disposable cups.

    Berglandmilch, Austria

    Berglandmilch is the largest Austrian dairy producer. In 2018, they sold milk in regular glass bottles, which customers then sent for processing. However, at the end of 2019, the company began using reusable Austrian-made glass bottles.

    How it works

    The deposit is 22 euro cents. You can return the bottle to the fandomat (container receiving machine) in any large supermarket. These bottles can be reused 15 times before being sent for recycling.

    The system is clearly taking root as the company plans to expand it to other products, such as yogurt. In addition, it has invested in state-of-the-art washing and filling equipment to minimize costs and environmental impact.

    Ozarka, Netherlands

    The last overseas service on our list is a very young project from Holland. In this case, glass and silicone containers for takeaway food act as a security container.

    How it works

    The client orders takeaway food, pays the deposit, then returns with an empty container and receives the deposit back. The restaurant accepts the used containers from the client, hands them over to Ozarka, receives a new batch, and in the meantime, they wash and disinfect the containers.

    Facebook rating: 5/5

    What about the coronavirus?

    It is obvious that the key to the successful operation of the returnable packaging system and customer confidence in it at any time is thorough disinfection.

    Unfortunately, some people get the false impression that disposable containers are by definition cleaner than reusable ones. However, it is not known where she was and who touched her, and it is clear that no one additionally disinfected her. Therefore, there are no advantages to disposable containers over reusable ones in terms of hygiene. More than 100 doctors from 18 countries have signed a statement confirming the safety of using reusable items during the COVID-19 pandemic, subject to basic hygiene practices.

    We believe that for the successful development of the sharing business model in public catering in the era of covid, the transparency of the company’s logistics processes comes first. It is better to see once what happens to the used dishes than to hear a hundred times that they are being washed the way they should.

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