Whether single-use or reusable takeaway: plastics can do both

A coffee and a small salad to go, please.” Ordering to take away from your nearby bistro, café or bakery during your lunch break: a practical and convenient thing to do. Many classic takeaway foods such as coffee, smoothies or pre-packaged salads are sold in disposable cups or trays. This disposable packaging then usually ends up in municipal waste bins and thus, unfortunately, in unsorted residual waste. Some things are simply carelessly thrown away somewhere in the environment.

On average, each of us produced 72 kilograms of packaging waste in Germany in 2019 – four kilogrammes more than in the previous year. And in 2020, it was probably another ten percent more.

Intelligent reusable deposit systems on the rise

This process allows some waste to be avoided, as takeaway packaging is also available as a reusable solution. An increasing number of fledgling companies are offering innovative, simple deposit systems for reusable cups and trays. Throughout Germany, you can find successful providers such as RECUP and REBOWL with over 7,500 distribution points, or reCIRCLE with around 330 partner locations in Germany and 1,400 partners in Switzerland. They provide a sensible alternative with takeaway plastic packaging that helps to avoid waste. From 2023, restaurants will even be obliged to offer reusable containers – systems like this provide them with a simple solution.

Order, enjoy, return

Here’s how it works: you order your coffee or lunch in a reusable cup or tray and pay a deposit. Empty cups and trays can be returned to all participating partners. No matter where you are, you can quickly and easily locate all partner businesses of the relevant deposit system online or via an app. The cups and trays are cleaned on site and then reused.

A functioning circular flow

Deposit systems cut down a lot on packaging waste. REBOWL trays can be reused at least 200 times, RECUP cups an impressive 1000 times. The reusable boxes from reCIRCLE likewise make it back into the loop 150-200 times. When they have reached the end of their life, the plastic trays and cups are recycled and processed into other products. This ensures that they are recycled correctly – because for many consumers, packaging made of cardboard, plastic and the like also ends up in residual waste, preventing the circular flow from functioning properly. However, this approach means that we can continue with our cherished habits – and the raw materials end up where they belong.

But beware: reusable is not automatically better

As is so often the case in life, the choice between single-use and reusable products is not always the right or wrong decision. It all depends. On what? Well, for example on transport routes, the return rate, costly washing processes or the number of actual uses …

If we are concerned about real climate protection, then we need to include all the factors in the equation and not just the feeling that we are doing the right thing. Everyone wins when we can decide in favour of single-use or usable, depending on the application and ecological assessment, without dogmatically insisting on one or the other: people, the environment and our climate.


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