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Breaking Down ROI for Reusables Programs

Updated: May 10

Sustainability is no longer just a buzzword in food-service organizations––it’s a crucial component of financial success. One area where businesses can make significant strides towards sustainability while also improving their bottom line is by replacing single-use containers with reusables. But how exactly does one measure a reusables program's clear return on investment (ROI)? And what factors contribute to its financial viability? Read our blog below to learn more.

racks of cooking supplies and reusable containers

What is the ‘investment’ of a reusable packaging program?

Before diving into ROI, we must first understand the following: What are the investment inputs of a reusable packaging program? We aim to take a holistic approach and have worked with our most successful ReusePass clients to consider the following:

  • Time invested to learn about reusable packaging

  • Back-end work of convincing stakeholders to budget for this

  • Operational costs of establishing a new program and purchasing containers or switching to a different one

    • This is a lower cost if the reusables program you are switching to is packaging agnostic––like ReusePass!

  • Program costs, which include any upfront costs and any subscription fees for access to the platform, technology, and support services

  • Additional utility and detergent costs to wash a greater volume of dishes

  • Time and effort of IT, Dining, Sustainability, and other departments to launch and maintain the program

  • Time and effort in program outreach and education to increase awareness and adoption among diners

Given the investment considerations, it's important to launch a reusables program that will drive short- and long-term ROI. Now that we’ve covered the investment considerations, we can dive into what returns look like.

What does a ‘return’ on the investment of a reusable packaging program look like?

The return on your investment falls into three main areas: 1) cost savings, 2) environmental impact, and 3) diner satisfaction.

Cost Savings

With 1:1 tracking programs like Topanga's ReusePass, you can save thousands on monthly single-use packaging costs net of additional reusable program management costs. For example, a program doing 6,000 to-go transactions per month with Topanga’s 99% return rate can save over $22,000 in packaging costs over the course of an academic year - depending on your Topanga program tier, you can start seeing a positive ROI within the first 9 months of your program. Check out our ROI calculator here!

Additionally, you can also choose to enact single-use surcharges and late-return fees to boost revenue. This gives you extra cash to reinvest into new containers, purchase new or additional warewashing equipment, create a student-managed sustainable dining fund, pay workers more, purchase higher-quality ingredients––you name it!

All in, a high performing reusable container program is an effective way to deliver cost savings to your bottom-line and drive new revenue streams. 

During the implementation process, Topanga is happy to share specific recommendations on surcharges and late fees based on your program goals. Schedule a call here to learn more today.

Positive Environmental Impact

The ROI of reusable packaging goes beyond just financial gains. While cost savings are undoubtedly significant, businesses also benefit from enhanced sustainability and reduced environmental impact. With increasing legislation demanding verifiable impact data to access tax breaks or grant funding, having a program like Topanga’s in place allows you to report on your environmental impact with confidence and reap the rewards. 

By investing in reusable containers and implementing effective management and tracking systems, organizations can improve their bottom line and contribute to a more sustainable future for future generations.

Diner Satisfaction

Increasingly, diners are looking at food service as an opportunity to reduce waste and make sustainable choices. But beyond the impact, reusable packaging offers guests an elevated to-go experience, ensuring take-out food stays warm, and the containers don’t leak or grow soggy in transport.

Additionally, reusable programs like ReusePass drive repeat foot traffic to your dining environments, encouraging users to make another visit to return their containers, increasing brand loyalty and future purchase opportunities.

Calculate your own cost savings

Interested in calculating your own cost savings? Leverage our self-serve ROI calculator here!

What makes a financially viable reusable packaging program?

The financial viability of a reusable packaging program depends on 1) the cost of the containers, 2) the containers’ lifespan, 2) their return rates and usage rates, and 4) the program’s container management and tracking capabilities.

Cost of Container

While container costs are often the most cut-and-dry expense, it can also feel overwhelming to make the upfront investment. With Topanga, you can retrofit existing containers and support all types of asset types and materials. Learn more about the value of a packaging-agnostic reusables program and different container types here

If you’re looking to purchase new inventory, it can seem attractive to look at packaging leasing models. However, this is short sighted as over time those end up costing more money, as you don’t recoup costs on lost containers and pay the same cost per use. Our clients like McMaster University who own their packaging can end up paying less than $0.04 per use for their owned inventory!

When it comes to material, it’s important to consider the cost in parallel with durability. Most polypropylene and stainless steel containers are tested to hold up for 1,000 washes, but stainless steel often has a much more prohibitive upfront cost, aren’t microwave friendly, and have detached lids that can easily get lost. On the other hand, plastic containers can fade with too much microwaving and have all-in-one components that can break down with too much ware.

The good news is that thanks to Topanga's high return and reuse rates, operators can purchase containers and rest assured that they can efficiently manage the inventory across multiple locations, closely monitor reuse rate, and ensure each container reaches a break even as quickly as possible.

With the price of single-use packaging increasing due to legislation and supply chain demands, reusable packaging will continue to gain an economic advantage in the coming years.

Container Lifespan

A successful ROI for reusable assets lies in maximizing a container’s lifespan, equal to the number of times it was reused before it had to be retired. It’s essential to understand return rate, inventory cycle rate, and reuse rate to have visibility into your lifespan. Topanga’s dashboard puts this transparently at your fingertips!

Number of Container Uses

Unlike single-use packaging, which is discarded after each use, reusable containers can be utilized multiple times, leading to a higher ROI over time. Based on expected waste rates, with an average return rate of 95% you’re likely to see 15 uses per container before falling out of circulation, whereas with a return rate of 99% or greater you’re likely to see most of your containers will hit 60+ reuses! Every percentage counts.

graph of number of container reuses (x axis) and correlating return rate percentages (y axis)

In the graph above, the axis starts at 80% because if your reusables program cannot get you above 80%, then it is not worth trying. As your program improves and moves up the chart, your ROI improves. The higher the return rate, the higher chance you have of an increased number of container reuses, which means a lower percentage of containers ending up in a landfill. For example, with a 99% return rate, by the 50th reuse it is statistically likely that only 39% of your containers have been lost/fallen out of circulation. Essentially, in order to launch and maintain a successful reusables program, it cannot be seen as merely a one-time decision. The goal is program maintenance and continual improvement––there is a cost to that additional effort but a real return as well which you see on this graph.

Efficiency of the Container Management and Tracking System

Without effective management and tracking, even well-intentioned reusable packaging programs can fail to deliver on its ROI commitments. Make sure you look for strong evidence that the solution can deliver 95%+ return rates or you will find your program quickly under water. Leveraging a tech-enabled reusables program that utilizes track-and-trace technology helps you hold specific diners accountable and keep your containers in use.

graph of cost savings with single-use container unit cost (y axis) and total reuses (x axis)

This above graph shows the power of reusables to fight against the unavoidable inflation of single-use container prices. The more reuse loops your ReusesPass program has, the higher cost savings you will experience when compared to your single-use container cost per unit, even as it fluctuates due to inflation. This does not even take into account the additional funds that could be created by implementing a single-use surcharge!


Ready for a quote? Reach out to us below!

Contact us at We’d be more than happy to discuss your dining program's potential ROI with ReusePass and give you a free quote.

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