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The Value of a Packaging-Agnostic Reusables Program

Updated: Apr 15

In this blog you’ll learn why a packaging-agnostic reusables program is the better and more sustainable option for your culinary dining program. From the ease of switching programs thanks to being able to keep your existing packaging inventory, to realizing cost savings faster due to requiring less uses to break even––this blog dives into all the hidden value of packaging-agnostic reusables programs, as well as common questions you may have when considering making the switch to one.

stack of different types of reusable containers

Before our campuses and foodservice organization customers made the switch to Topanga’s ReusePass reusables packaging program, they were unhappy with their existing program due to minimal engagement, low return rates, and an overall low ROI. Despite all of that, they were still hesitant to make the switch to a better reusables program because they 1) had just invested thousands of dollars into program-specific packaging, 2) couldn’t afford to let it all go to waste, and 3) didn’t want it to go to waste because of their commitment to their sustainability goals.

That’s where the value of switching to a packaging-agnostic reusables program like ReusePass comes into play.

What is a packaging-agnostic reusables program?

Packaging-agnostic’ means that you can use any type of packaging you prefer. From durable plastic to-go containers to stainless steel canisters for a 100% plastic free experience––ReusePass supports all types of packaging.

Topanga’s reusable solutions are laser-focused on delivering cost-saving and waste-reducing results, rather than having the petty limitations of needing to use specific packaging or buy into a complicated leasing model. The value of our ReusePass program is not dependent on the containers themselves, but rather it is in our track-and-trace technology and accurate data capture that helps you understand your programs’ success, receive impact reports, maintain an average ~97% return rate, and experience immense cost savings.

Schools like Vanderbilt were easily able to make the switch from their existing reusables program thanks to Topanga’s ReusePass being a packaging-agnostic program.

Why should I consider a packaging-agnostic reusables program?

Ease. Switching to a packaging-agnostic reusables program is incredibly easy because you’re using the inventory that you already have and the majority of changes are around operations and new program education/awareness.

Flexibility. If you end up deciding you want different packaging or you want to include different types of containers, you can! And all under the same ReusePass program.

Cost Savings. Realize cost savings faster due to requiring less uses to break-even.

What types of packaging are commonly used in reusable packaging programs?

Reusable programs often leverage plastic clamshells or stainless steel containers. While we have clients with stainless-steel reusable containers on our platform, we’ve seen that our clients in general prefer durable polypropylene. This is largely due to polypropylene being 1) more cost-effective upfront, 2) microwave and RFID-friendlier materials than stainless steel, and 3) operationally preferred for food presentation and diner experience.

Across our ReusePass programs, the most popular container sizes and asset types are the following:

  • 3-compartment 9x9

  • Single-compartment 9x9

  • Cups

  • Side container

Can plastic reusable containers still be sustainable?

Yes! Reducing single-use plastics is one of the top ways that campuses and other foodservice organizations + culinary programs can cut back on waste to lower their carbon footprint and reusables programs dramatically help make this happen. Topanga has helped 30+ campuses save more than 1 million single-use containers from the landfill and avoid 99k+ pounds of waste. And while many reusable containers are often plastic, it still dramatically reduces overall plastic waste that goes into landfill thanks to the average lifespan of each container. 

Additionally, the heart of successful sustainable efforts via reusables lies in your program’s return rate. Regardless of what type of container you choose, it’s most important that your containers get returned and reused enough times to break even so you can make back the upfront cost and elongate your assets’ lifespans. Thanks to our track-and-trace technology paired with highly accurate data-capture, SMS return reminders, and optional late fees, our campuses have garnered an average return rate of 97%.

What is the average lifespan of a reusable plastic container?

Most of the containers listed have been tested for over 1,000 uses. Topanga's clients have containers that have gone over 100+ rentals/reuses with the containers and the QR/RFID tag remaining in pristine condition.

With the Topanga dashboard and reporting, you can track all of your assets and monitor the lifespan of each container. You'll be able to see the average numbers of reuses across all of your asset types to hone into ROI. Additionally, our impact reporting will help you see how many times each container needs to be used to break even from a sustainability perspective. Typically we see that polypropylene containers need to be used 3–4 times to break even and outperform compostable containers, versus 8–10 times for stainless steel to outperform compostables.

Can I use different types of reusable containers together in a single program?

Yes, you can! Schools like Boston University utilize plastic reusable containers and recently just launched a stainless steel coffee cup, all tracked in their ReusePass reusables program.

If you're unsure of what material or container types are right for you, don't worry! When implementing your ReusePass program, Topanga supports you with an in-depth operational analysis thanks to our awesome customer support team that are experts in program design. Based on your dishwashers, drying racks, and shelf space, we share our best recommendations for you so you can maximize returns and streamline operations.

Do you have a recommended reusable-container supplier?

We have a network of preferred packaging manufacturers that we work with closely across campuses. When implementing your ReusePass program, we'll work with your campus to help you determine how much inventory you need and make introductions to the preferred manufacturers that will fit your needs best. We can also refer you to our existing clients to chat through packaging preferences and first-hand experience from operators.


Ready to rethink your current reusables partner?

Contact us at to learn more about what switching to ReusePass could look like on your campus. We’d be more than happy to answer any questions you may have!

In the meantime, check out our on-demand webinar with Vanderbilt here where they discuss Vanderbilt’s history of reuse and why they decided to switch to Topanga’s ReusePass reusables program from their previous program. Watch it now!

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