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Q&A with founder Caroline Vanderlip

As featured in Living Landscape of Reusable Solutions' November 2021 newsletter


Caroline Vanderlip, CEO and Founder of Re:Dish sat down with the Reuse Landscape team to talk about her company and working in the fast-moving reusable foodware space. 

What got you interested in reuse and what made you think it was the right time to start Re:Dish?

It seemed like every day I was waking up to news of another climate disaster and becoming more and more aware of the mounds of waste on the sidewalks of the city. I started thinking about the world my kids and grandkids are growing up in now and what it will be like for them in the years to come. The problems are daunting but transitioning to reuse will eliminate a lot of waste and the need to manufacture single-use products. Large enterprises and institutions represent an opportunity to make a significant dent, if just for the scale of what is hauled away from them each day. Companies are also now more focused on sustainability than ever before, signing on to initiatives like the NYC Carbon Challenge and looking for new ways to reduce their environmental footprints. Re:Dish gives them an easy way to address their sustainability and ESG goals.

What do you want people to understand about what Re:Dish is and how it works?

Re:Dish is helping companies reach their environmental goals by reducing waste in their food service operations. We do this by making it simple to switch from single-use to reusable products, like to-go containers and cups, and by using our own enterprise scale ware washing system to wash them. We collect used products daily, take them to our facility to be washed, sanitized and re-packed, and then do it all again the next day. We reinforce the program’s daily impact by providing our clients with access to DishTrack, our inventory management and impact system, which calculates the lifecycle carbon emissions and water reduction from that day’s usage. Seeing the impact that such a small shift can have helps people begin to understand how they can play a role that affects the world’s climate issues.

What are your containers made from? How did you make this decision?

Polypropylene. We compared products on 21 different characteristics and PP fit the bill the best. It’s lightweight, stackable, can be used hundreds of times and still look like new (or we take it out of circulation), and made in the USA. Additionally, Re:Dish is a closed loop system. When any one of our containers is no longer usable, it is ground down and used to make new containers, ensuring that the polypropylene never touches landfill.

Re:Dish launched in May of 2020. How has COVID impacted Re:Dish and what do you see changing as people return to their offices and workplaces?

COVID allowed us to assemble a terrific team virtually and spend the time to really understand our market and processes, so we could hit the ground running when we opened for business. And then we had our first client which caused us to rethink everything! So much for planning.

There’s certainly more single-use food packaging at workplaces than there was before COVID which benefits us, but obviously not as many employees back in the office yet. We are growing with our clients as they bring everyone back.

Would you describe the atmosphere amongst players in the reusable foodware market as competitive or collaborative? What has surprised you most about this industry?

Reusable solutions are now gaining traction and there is a lot of enthusiasm because of the potential impact reuse can have, but it's also uncharted territory where the landscape and logistics are still being figured out. It’s exciting to see how everyone is innovating and we're all learning from each other.  As these solutions continue to grow and scale and become mainstream, there will be more opportunities for collaboration.

What do you imagine for the future of Re:Dish? What are you planning?

We hope there is a Re:Dish reusable washing center in every market in the US in the next 5 years. With this type of infrastructure in place, so many more products can seriously consider a reuse option. We can open reuse to more audiences and channels beyond food service and expand the impact that such reuse can bring.

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