Start-up aims to reduce single-use container waste in takeaway sector

Returnr Ireland is offering a deposit/return system for cups and food containers

David Weitbrecht, founder of Returnr Ireland. ‘Given the right environment and choice, people tend to act positively,’ he says

David Weitbrecht, founder of Returnr Ireland. ‘Given the right environment and choice, people tend to act positively,’ he says

 

Sustainability is not just about replacing non-environmentally friendly products with something greener. It’s also about changing behaviours and attitudes. A single-use drinking cup, whether it’s compostable or not, is still linked to a state of mind that prioritises throwaway over reuse and this has to change, says David Weitbrecht, founder of Returnr Ireland which is pioneering a deposit/return system for cups and food containers.

Weitbrecht studied management science and information systems studies at TCD and went to work for EY as a data analyst. However, his growing concern about climate change saw him jump ship to join the sustainability sector with a view to helping speed up the transition to a carbon neutral and circular economy. Initially, he was going to focus on a compostable alternative to single use plastic cups, but he quickly realised that attitudes were as germane to the problem as the plastics being used and that making reuse “cool” was the way to reach more people.

Having looked at the international experience of deposit/return in the retail food sector, Weitbrecht felt a similar system could work in Ireland. However, he hit a wall when he tried sourcing an Irish manufacturer for suitable containers as the costs were prohibitive. He subsequently found but rejected containers made from a type of plastic as it gave out mixed messages before eventually stumbling upon a young Australian company already in the reusable containers business. “They had developed very high quality, twin-walled stainless steel cups and containers which we showed to our potential customers and they were very well received,” Weitbrecht says. “We then approached the Australians with a view to licensing their products for Ireland as we felt that using an existing solution to create a universal system with localised implementation fitted well with our company’s sustainability mission.”

Monthly membership

Outlets that sign up to the Returnr Ireland network pay a monthly membership fee and €5 per reusable unit. In turn, they charge their customers a €6 deposit on the container. A customer requests their food or drink in a Returnr and after use they rinse and return it to any cafe in the network to get their deposit back.

“We have factored the cost of the containers not being returned into our model and that’s not really the issue as what we’re doing in all about volume and getting as many reusable containers as possible into circulation,” says Weitbrecht who recently completed the New Frontiers programme at the IT Tallaght synergy centre.

As an eco-conscious consumer Weitbrecht was fed up with excess packaging being “forced” on him at every turn and he believes there are many others who feel the same. It is these like-minded souls that Returnr is targeting.

“Given the right environment and choice, people tend to act positively,” he says. “In Ireland, an estimated 138 million pieces of single-use packaging are disposed of over the lunchtime period alone every year and around 22,000 coffee cups are disposed of each hour. By contrast, Returnr’s shared products minimise waste and resources and bring a waste free solution to the takeaway/grab and go food industry. Our products are made from 70 per cent recycled steel and when they eventually reach the end of their life they can be 100 per cent recycled into a new product. Our solution will also avoid the single-use levies being planned for Ireland and Europe.”

Last December

Returnr Ireland began operations last December and the system is up and running in Dublin with plans to go nationwide. The company will also be offering an office/corporate solution. Roughly €50,000 has been invested in the business to date between personal equity and support from Trinity College Launchbox, Enterprise Ireland and the Environmental Protection Agency’s recently launched green enterprise fund.  

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.