We looked at the waste in the bins of our apartments: each member of our team ordered varying amounts of takeout from a variety of restaurants that used different types of packaging. We did some digging: it turns out we use 200 Million takeout containers in London each year. We were willing to bet that number had increased significantly during COVID.

What if we could standardise that packaging and develop an ecosystem of containers that could be used over and over, just like our plates back home? What if we could make take-away as good for the environment as dine-in?

Keep-Cup had reduced single-use coffee cups by creating their own brand of reusable cups. We could envisage a similarly iconic product which restaurants could use to transport meals via their usual Delivery Partners (like Deliveroo, JustEat and UberEats). That’s how reboxd was born...

What it does

Here’s how reboxd works:

  1. The restaurant orders reboxes in sizes and quantities via our app.
  2. We deliver reboxes with the restaurant’s logo imprinted in washable, plant-based ink to the restaurant.
  3. The restaurant packs their takeaway food in reboxes for delivery, and scans the RFID code on the reboxes before it is picked up by the Delivery Partner.
  4. The Delivery Partner delivers the order to the consumer, and picks up any used reboxes the consumer may already have.
  5. The consumer rinses and returns the rebox via the Deliver Partner, or can drop it off at any participating restaurant within the next 4 weeks.
  6. We collect reboxes from all restaurants, sterilize and re-distribute them according to each restaurant’s desired inventory levels.
  7. Back to step 1!

How we built it

We spent our first few hours brainstorming the takeaway container problem and coming up with solutions - as wide and as crazy as possible. We developed some hypotheses of what might work, but we needed to test our theories. To do this, we spent our next few hours (a) surveying consumers, (b) calling restaurant owners and (c) questioning the delivery drivers who dropped off our respective lunch orders. Then it was back to the virtual white board with our findings, so we could tweak our solution.

Our primary research gave us three key findings: The restaurants we spoke to had no inventory management for their takeaway containers. That meant that our eventual app would need to allow ordering, but also keep track of what they had ordered and used - which we could do with our in-built RFID technology. Delivery riders had space and appetite to collect used containers. Setting up our own collection network would work for a small, localised pilot, but we ran the numbers of what it would do to our financials and it wasn’t pretty. To keep our prices competitive with the status quo single-use options, we could not pick up items. Customer demand was high. We discovered that 56% of our customer survey participants ordered more than once per week (and a further 30% ordered every fortnight). Of those, all would be willing to return containers to the delivery drivers. More importantly, our customers cared about sustainability and reducing their waste.

Challenges we ran into

We thoroughly considered our business model and potential pain points: Why didn’t Delivery Partners already provide this service? Could they replace us instead of partnering with us? We considered this risk, but decided that Delivery Partners might look to acquire us if we were successful, but were unlikely to set up in competition because inventory management is an entirely different offering to delivery, and involves very different types of risks. How many times would our reboxes have to be reused to make the cost to restaurants/consumers break-even with the cost of plastic single-use packaging.* Our conservative estimates assumed that we would break-even when we use 1.6million boxes, ie at that point we would be cheaper for restaurants that 10c per container for single-use plastic.
**How do we make collection of reboxes frictionless for consumers.
We considered several options from partnering with Delivery Partners, running our own collection service, building a relationship with local councils to set up stationery collection boxes (like clothing bins) and setting up collection stations at local supermarkets. How do we incentivise consumers to return the reboxes into the ecosystem within a reasonable time (and not throw them out or keep them). We decided the easiest would be to charge customers if they keep the_rebox_ for longer than 3 weeks, which we could do because we were using the RFID system to keep track of inventory, and we had payment details from Delivery Partners.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

We built a profitable business model that saves the planet. In our short weekend we: Built a financial model: We took the population of London, estimated the number of takeout boxes used on an annual basis, and benchmarked against existing bulk delivery charges. We calculated the life-cycle use per box assuming that boxes cost £10 and we would use them 500 times. Our per box delivery takes into account washing costs, cost of collection and process, app development, marketing and the RFID component. With 50% market penetration, we will be able to break even with a monthly subscription cost of 642 GBP per restaurant. Calculated our CO2 savings: We used our financial model together with the CO2 savings calculator built by KeepCup to work out the carbon savings from our reboxes. Designed a prototype: We worked out how we would test our concept at a smaller scale and then how to scale up.

What we learned

Restaurants: We spoke to three high end restaurants about their appetite for reusable takeaway containers. Two had already looked into doing this in-house, and the third had not considered it but was interested. We learned:

  • All three were fine to receive used containers as long as (a) they did not have to wash them, and (b) they were picked up within 1-2 days.
  • None of them could afford to run the service on their own because of (a) the collection costs and (b) the costs of the containers themselves - they did not have the necessary scale to purchase containers in bulk, and were concerned about losses if containers went missing.
  • Two out of three were prepared to pay more than they currently paid for compostable packaging, particularly if the containers were durable and did not leak.

Takeaway customers: We surveyed 123 customers who regularly order takeaways (ie more than once a week). We learned:

  • 97% said they would be willing to receive and consume their food delivery from reusable packaging.
  • 88% said they would be happy to give the container a quick rinse after use.

Collection: We spoke to two delivery riders from Deliveroo and one from Ubereats and they told us:

  • They usually pick up from only one restaurant at a time (in rare cases, two) and they pick up between 1 to 2 orders.
  • All three would be happy to pick up empty containers and take them to the next restaurant they were going to (or to somewhere on their planned route).
  • Across the three we spoke to, they thought they delivered between 3-5 orders per hour.

What's next for ReBoxd

Our next step is to launch our Pilot programme, check out our detailed submission document for more details!

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