RECUP is an innovative reusable food packaging system for restaurants and other food service businesses. Based in Germany, it has over 20,000 outlets in the country using its attractive food bowls and cups, which are given to customers, who then receive their deposit back, on returning on the next visit. If used en-masse, this system could literally save millions of plastic bowls and cups from going to landfill. And it takes just 6 uses of the bowl (and 12 uses of the cup) to start saving money for your business, as you no longer have to buy disposable food and drink packaging. Research has shown that customers also admire companies that are making the effort, and it’s likely good free marketing for you, if you get the word out that you have switched to reusable cups and bowls for take-out meals.

Each RECUP can replace up to 1000 single-use cups, and each REBOWL can be used up to 500 times. The cups are sold in various sizes to accommodate all needs, and are stackable to save space, and dishwasher-friendly. They are also food-safe, shatterproof and a deposit lid is available on demand. The bowls are in 3 sizes (one with a divider lid to separate sauces etc) and also leakproof and heat-resistant up to 85 degrees C.

The system works like this. You rent the cups/bowls, then your customers pay around £1 deposit for a cup or £5 deposit for a bowl. They go off to drink and eat, then return them the next time to receve back their deposit. The bowls and cups are then washed, to be used again.

The brand was founded by two young men in Germany (one is Swedish) who were astounded at the billions of single-use plastic cups and bowls being served each day (around 184 cups a second and 85 plates a second). They both had come up with the idea of reusable food service packaging independently while studying sustainability, so they put their brains together and launched in 2016. The company has been extremely successful, with millions of pounds in funding and it’s now the leading company in its niche. In Germany, big brand names like IKEA and Burger King work with RECUP to offer reusable cups and bowls. Why not here?

homegrown reusable food service containers

CauliBox is not yet on the same scale, but appears to be the first company to offer a similar service in the UK. The recent single-use plastic ban on some takeaway containers (and cutlery) no doubt will help to fuel its success (our laws are however still not as stringent as Germany, where all shops by law now have to offer reusable packaging as an option to customers). Founded by 2 London foodies in 2019, it has snowballed into a successful brand that aims to prevent 15 million single-use plastic items from being given out at takeaway restaurants and beyond.

These boxes work a little differently to RECUP in that you don’t pay anything. You just use an app to find a location, and the box is free on-loan, as long as you return it within 7 days. If you’re returning it within a short time (say the same day), you don’t even have to wash it up, it’s all done for you! Some towns have automatic CauliKiosks that you simply pop the bowls back in, after you’ve eaten your lunch.

The CauliBoxes are leakproof and odourproof, with a lid that seals perfectly. The stackable boxes are also safe for dishwashers and microwaves, and recycled by the company after 400 or so uses. The boxes are made in the Czech Republic to minimise air miles and Co2 production. Why not join the 10K fans using CauliBox? The company can supply to any food-service business. Users report savings of between £4K to £10K per year.

how to pack sandwiches (without clingfilm)

if you care paper sandwich bags

If you run a small sandwich shop (or make sandwiches for others to sell), there are plenty of alternatives to clingfilm. Be careful as some ‘compostable packaging’ is from flammable eucalyptus trees (Spain and Portugal are banning new plantations, due to wildfires). 

Most kerbside and supermarket recyclers won’t take clingfilm, a very thin plastic that often falls apart and is made from LDPE (low-density polyethylene) taht doesn’t stick well and was invented by accident almost 100 years ago, with a man trying to remove something from a lab vial. It’s made by melting tiny plastic pellets (nurdles) that often drop on the factory floor and end up in the sea (it’s estimated 50 million nurdles end up in oceans each year, and look like fish eggs, so get eaten (and you eat them too, if you eat fish).

If You Care makes greaseproof sandwich bags (also good for nuts, crisps and baguettes) and unbleached unwaxed paper (free from chlorine in cardboard packs – the latter is pre-cut and also be used to warm up pizza). Toastabags offer paper sandwich/snack bags (and compostable clingfilm), as does Ecoleaf and Lakeland.

Cafes, restaurants and hotels may wish to invest in Agreena, a reusable silicone alternative to clingfilm (that also replaces foil) to wash and use again. Sold on a roll, silicone does contain fossil fuels (mixed with sand) but lasts for years and at end of life, is easily recycle. It also withstands high temperatures, and stretches over glass bowls to keep prepped foods in the fridge.

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