How Scaled Reuse Programs Empower Organizations to Create a More Circular Economy 

by Re:Dish, September 2022

Summary

Re:Dish helps large organizations lead in the effort to shift the consumption economy in the United States from linear to circular by offering the scaled infrastructure to support the tracking, washing and sanitization required for reuse.  Used by all types of organizations – from Fortune 500 companies to charter schools – Re:Dish’s reuse program creates change on a structural level by normalizing environmentally conscious practices, using the immediate impact of such changes to reinforce circular behavior. 

Problem

Given the ongoing crisis of needless waste and its corresponding correlation to rapidly escalating climate change[i], who can lead the transition from a linear to circular economy?   

Nearly 1 trillion disposable food service products are used annually in the United States[ii], and, despite consumers’ expectations that they will be composted or recycled, most single-use products end up in landfills or incinerators.  Single-use plastic products, specifically, often take hundreds of years to break down, contaminating the earth and entangling sea life[iii].

While compostable single-use products break down faster than plastics under the right conditions (conditions that are highly uncommon), their manufacture requires more water and energy, resulting in higher lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions[iv].

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Single-use waste at landfills

Single-use, no matter the material, is not the answer. Reuse is.  Shifting the consumption economy from linear to circular is both imperative and urgent. 
 

Federal and local governing bodies are increasingly passing legislation that addresses both climate change and single-use waste[v], but legislative processes are slow moving.  Today, many environmentally conscious consumers are opting to make sustainable choices in their personal lives, but these laudable personal choices do not necessarily ignite structural change.  Institutions, meanwhile, are not only large waste contributors – consider that a cafeteria using 500 to-go containers per day creates nearly 7,500 lbs. of single-use food packaging waste in a year[v] – but are also in a unique position to influence everyday behavior.

How can organizations lead in reducing single-use waste and help bring reuse mainstream?

Solution

Reusable container programs that are built for scale make it easy for organizations to participate in circular solutions and eliminate their single-use waste without the costly expenditure of building warewashing infrastructure. 

These programs deliver reusable food containers and cups for foodservice, collect the containers after they are used, industrially clean and sanitize the containers, and repeat the cycle every day. These programs also track the environmental benefits of switching to reusables in real-time so organizations can monitor, quantify, and report their progress, if desired, against Scope 3 ESG frameworks. 

Scaled reusable container programs tackle single-use waste on an institutional level precisely to empower companies to drive structural change on several fronts: 

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Re:Dish’s industrial washing facility in Brooklyn, NY. 

1.  Immediate Impact at Scale.  By servicing organizations rather than individual consumers, reusable container programs provide an immediate impact at scale.  To demonstrate this, consider one Fortune 500 company’s office that recently switched from compostables to reusables.  In just the first three months of utilizing a scaled reusable container program, this company reduced their carbon emissions by 2,700 kilograms, diverted 2,200 pounds of single-use food packaging waste, and saved 7,800 gallons of water[iv]

2. Demonstratable Accountability.  Employees, students, stakeholders, and consumers alike are increasingly sensitive to greenwashing.  Reliable data is the key to delivering transparency and progress.  Scaled reusable container programs provide organizations with ongoing individualized progress reports that quantify the impact of eliminating single-use waste.  These reports help companies track their ESG goals, and when shared, help familiarize their employees and the broader public with key climate metrics that set a standard for accountability. 

3. Daily Reinforcement.  Switching to reusables in corporate and school cafeterias, event venues, and other places food is served at scale quickly introduces large populations to reuse.  Participating in the circular economy daily normalizes reuse behavior at scale, inspires individuals to adopt more sustainable practices in other parts of their lives, and creates more general demand for circular solutions across industries and sectors.

CHALLENGES

Developing a reusable program at scale is also not without challenges. 

Challenge #1: Seamless Transition to Reuse 

Transition to Reuse = Full-service Support + Competitive Price + Washing Scale

Transitioning from single-use products to reusables needs to be as seamless as possible to minimize disruption.  For this reason, reusable programs must be full-service (i.e., provide ongoing inventory and waste management support), require minimal staff training, and provide comprehensive implementation support.  To ease transitions related to switching from single-use to reusables, pricing for a reusables program should be comparable to single-use alternatives, which can be achieved by designing for scale.  That is, the washing and sanitizing facility must have the capacity to easily wash tens of thousands of units in a day, leverage state-of-the-art technology and machinery to gain efficiencies, and utilize operational excellence to ensure all containers are tracked and delivered clean and on time. 

Challenge #2: Return Rates

High Return Rates = Infrastructure + Native Signage + Critical Mass of Reuse

Any veteran of the reusables industry will be quick to point out that one of the primary industry challenges is ensuring high return rates (i.e., reusable containers are returned so they can actually be reused).  High return rates are enabled by closed-network food systems such as school cafeterias, corporate commissaries and cafes – settings where individuals tend to consume their food in the same environment it is served.  Because individuals tend to utilize reusable containers in a central location, it is much easier to retrofit existing trash and recycling bins for reuse.  Moreover, repeating the process of reuse daily creates muscle memory and reinforces the habit of returning reusables to the appropriate locations.  Reuse practices are also furthered by a top-down approach to implementation, including messages from management with real data that reinforces the importance of practicing reuse. 

Challenge #3: Stakeholder Buy-In

Stakeholder Buy-In = Quantified Impact + Turnkey Solution + Key Partnerships

Any program that services large organizations will need to manage the challenges of ensuring all stakeholders support the program.  Specifically, there should be involvement from several stakeholders at the client level, from Chief Sustainability Officers to Office Operations Managers to Food Service Providers.  Therefore, the reusables program must be digestible, understandable, and actionable to all.  Quantifying the impact of reusable programs is necessary; clients should understand exactly what the Scope 3 impact reduction is of a reusable program relative to single-use.  Second, it is critical that the reusable program is as turnkey as possible; clients should be able to seamlessly integrate reusable programs into existing systems and infrastructure.  Finally, it is important that food service providers are partners – and hopefully advocates – for reusables programs.  These partnerships enable seamless integration with food preparation and further enable superior communications with employees at all stages of a reusable program’s implementation.   

Results

Re:Dish, a New York City-based company, has created a scaled reusables program that services all types of large organizations, from Fortune 500 companies to charter schools.  These organizations have made a notable impact on the environment in a short period of time.  In the past four months alone, Re:Dish clients have[iv]:  

  • Diverted over 13,000 lbs. of waste compared to single-use compostables

  • Reduced CO2e emissions by 20,000 kgs

  • Saved 30,000 gallons of water

A top-down approach to reuse has already proved remarkably effective and the effects will increase exponentially in future months and years.  Re:Dish’s tracking and washing services are also available to other companies with reusable products, further opening opportunities for large organizations to lead in making the reuse economy a reality.


Re:Dish is currently servicing the New York Tri-State area but is quickly expanding to new markets.  For more information about Re:Dish and scaled reusables programs at large organizations, please contact info@redish.com

[1] Vasarhelyi, K. (2021, February 25). The Climate Impact of Single Use Plastics. 

[1] Upstream’s 2021 Report: Reuse wins; The environmental, economic, and business case for transitioning from single-use to reuse in food service. 

[1] Lindwall, C. (2020, January 9). Single-Use Plastics 101. Natural Resources Defense Council.

[1] Understanding Packaging (UP) Scorecard. (2022, February 25). Single-Use Material Decelerator. Version 0.2.

[1] See, e.g.: Inflation Reduction Act (2022), SEC Proposal to Enhance and Standardize Climate-Related Disclosures for Investors (2022), Secretary of the Interior Order to Eliminate Sale of Single-Use Plastics on Public Land (2022).