CleanTechies Podcast

Revolutionizing Takeout: Tackling Plastic Waste Crisis with Reusable Containers and Gamification w/ James Wilson (reUser)

June 04, 2023 Silas Mähner - ClimateTech & ESG Headhunter Season 1 Episode 103
Revolutionizing Takeout: Tackling Plastic Waste Crisis with Reusable Containers and Gamification w/ James Wilson (reUser)
CleanTechies Podcast
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CleanTechies Podcast
Revolutionizing Takeout: Tackling Plastic Waste Crisis with Reusable Containers and Gamification w/ James Wilson (reUser)
Jun 04, 2023 Season 1 Episode 103
Silas Mähner - ClimateTech & ESG Headhunter

Ever wondered how we could tackle the global plastic waste crisis, especially with the increase in takeout packaging during the pandemic? Today, we're thrilled to have James Wilson, founder, and CEO of ReUser, join us to share his innovative solution that focuses on reusable containers for dining institutions. James opens up about his journey in discovering the issue of takeout packaging waste and how it led him to create ReUser.

In our conversation, we explore the challenges associated with sustainable packaging, recycling, and user experience. James emphasizes the importance of understanding human behavior in creating a successful reusable container program, and how ReUser leverages technology to incentivize students to return their containers. We discuss the financial and environmental benefits of reusable containers, highlighting the potential for cost savings and reduced emissions.

As we wrap up, James shares insights into the billion-dollar market opportunity, ReUser's partnerships with reusable container companies, and their goal of becoming the operating system for reuse. We delve into the powerful role that gamification and customer loyalty play in promoting sustainable behavior, and how ReUser aims to expand its reach to other sectors such as hospitals and corporate campuses. Join us for this insightful conversation about an innovative solution to a pressing environmental challenge.

📺 👀 Prefer to watch: subscribe on YouTube.

📫 Interested in written summaries and takeaways from the episode? Subscribe to the newsletter.

Want to be part of the community and engage further? Check out the Slack Channel. https://tinyurl.com/mwkn8zk5

-----
Links:
Connect with James: https://www.linkedin.com/in/james-wilson-3a832b88/
Check out reUser: https://www.reuser.app/
Check out our Sponsor, NextWave Partners: https://www.next-wavepartners.com/
Join the Slack Channelhttps://cleantechies.slack.com/join/shared_invite/zt-pd2drz6d-N~9nURU5JlyMXv2ZiO5bAQ#/shared-invite/email
Follow CleanTechies on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/clean-techies/
HMU on Twitter: @silasmahner

-----
Other episodes you might enjoy:
#16 Using all the CaCao Plant with Shannon Neumann from CaPao
#58 The Future of Clean Energy, Materials/Mfg, & the Circular Economy with Author, Peter Leyden
#57 Soap, Carbon Capture, Boilers, and PropTech w/ Jaeson Cardiff (Clean02)
#43 A Deep Dive Into the Grid, the Intermittency Problem, & Where do We go from Here w/ Bhaskar Ray (QCells)

Support the Show.

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Ever wondered how we could tackle the global plastic waste crisis, especially with the increase in takeout packaging during the pandemic? Today, we're thrilled to have James Wilson, founder, and CEO of ReUser, join us to share his innovative solution that focuses on reusable containers for dining institutions. James opens up about his journey in discovering the issue of takeout packaging waste and how it led him to create ReUser.

In our conversation, we explore the challenges associated with sustainable packaging, recycling, and user experience. James emphasizes the importance of understanding human behavior in creating a successful reusable container program, and how ReUser leverages technology to incentivize students to return their containers. We discuss the financial and environmental benefits of reusable containers, highlighting the potential for cost savings and reduced emissions.

As we wrap up, James shares insights into the billion-dollar market opportunity, ReUser's partnerships with reusable container companies, and their goal of becoming the operating system for reuse. We delve into the powerful role that gamification and customer loyalty play in promoting sustainable behavior, and how ReUser aims to expand its reach to other sectors such as hospitals and corporate campuses. Join us for this insightful conversation about an innovative solution to a pressing environmental challenge.

📺 👀 Prefer to watch: subscribe on YouTube.

📫 Interested in written summaries and takeaways from the episode? Subscribe to the newsletter.

Want to be part of the community and engage further? Check out the Slack Channel. https://tinyurl.com/mwkn8zk5

-----
Links:
Connect with James: https://www.linkedin.com/in/james-wilson-3a832b88/
Check out reUser: https://www.reuser.app/
Check out our Sponsor, NextWave Partners: https://www.next-wavepartners.com/
Join the Slack Channelhttps://cleantechies.slack.com/join/shared_invite/zt-pd2drz6d-N~9nURU5JlyMXv2ZiO5bAQ#/shared-invite/email
Follow CleanTechies on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/clean-techies/
HMU on Twitter: @silasmahner

-----
Other episodes you might enjoy:
#16 Using all the CaCao Plant with Shannon Neumann from CaPao
#58 The Future of Clean Energy, Materials/Mfg, & the Circular Economy with Author, Peter Leyden
#57 Soap, Carbon Capture, Boilers, and PropTech w/ Jaeson Cardiff (Clean02)
#43 A Deep Dive Into the Grid, the Intermittency Problem, & Where do We go from Here w/ Bhaskar Ray (QCells)

Support the Show.

Speaker 1:

or thinking about reuse ahead of time, was that the two biggest drivers would be cost savings and environmental benefits. It's not that those aren't important they still are but the third key, one of sovereignty over supply chain, has been a lot more important than I realized.

Speaker 2:

Welcome back to the Clean Techies podcast, where we interview Climatech founders and VC's to discuss all things building and investing to solve the biggest challenge of our generation climate change. Today we have a great episode with James Wilson, the founder and CEO of ReUser, where they are helping crack the code on reusable containers from dining institutions. James became interested in the problem during COVID by realizing how much of a negative impact he was having through the waste of his takeout. It's all about the user experience and taking out the friction. What they're currently working on is they're working with universities to implement and test this technology to refine it before they end up going out to other institutions. It's a really fascinating problem and solution that really involves user experience and human psychology, which is probably why I'm really fascinated by it. I really enjoyed making this episode and having this conversation and I hope you do as well. Enjoy the episode. All right, welcome to the show, james. How's it going?

Speaker 1:

I am doing quite well, having a good day out here in Connecticut. I'm excited to talk to you more about what we're doing and beyond this podcast.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I'm super excited to have you. I think what you've got here is pretty interesting. Obviously, we've been able to speak prior to recording the show. It's always good to have some context for myself, so I'm not just poking in the dark. But let's get us started with a bit of background on yourself and what you're doing today.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely. I'm James. I'm the CEO of ReUser. I have been working on ReUser for the past two years. Before that, i graduated from Wesleyan University in 2017 and then started working at a ticketing technology company, where I fell in love with the software development lifecycle and working with clients to better understand their problems that they were facing, to help build features with developers, to really solve those problems In the midst of the pandemic, just really took a look around me as to what was going on with their environment and saw how much takeout-acting waste it was contributing to and how it was contributing to the global plastic waste crisis, and thought back to my time as a student at Wesleyan University over five years beforehand, where we had used reusable takeout containers like these that could then be taken away from the dining hall to get food and then re-brought back and cleaned and used again.

Speaker 1:

I was like why are these not getting used in other places? I started to talk to restaurants about this and discovered that it wasn't a cost thing. Their takeout-packaging costs were only continued climb. Supply-sharing issues were making it harder for them to access the packaging that they needed, but they just couldn't trust that their customers would return this packaging back to them. I then talked to my own university and several other universities who are running reusable containers programs and discovered that they were really struggling to keep that packaging and circulation there as well and really drove me to spur on and look at how we could really build better systems of reuse and make this more feasible and dive into the root causes that were really driving that so that we can really make sure that these better feasible economic systems can actually ensure different milestones are hit and really keep more of this packaging and other items and circulation as well.

Speaker 2:

Awesome. You've covered all the big things right away. I like this that we've got right into the meat of things. Just to recap, you got interested in climate, essentially, and sustainability during COVID. You had that realization and you're helping solve the problem, which is not so much the containers per se, but more getting the behavior of the consumers to bring these containers back so they can reuse. I want to have you tell us a bit of stats. I'm sure you're quite familiar. Can you give people a bit of color on what is the real problem with the circular economy? more broadly speaking, what could be done? What are we looking at as a total negative impact currently?

Speaker 1:

That's a lot of different facets in the circular economy and what really how different things are touched on with that. That being said, with recycling systems currently, recycling was never meant to capture everything and it's not capturing everything. Many people are now familiar with the statistics that less than 10% of items that could be recycled actually are. Recycling itself often just means what it really comes down to as a definition is that it's taking that material that was in once of its life, breaking it down to then be made into something else, versus a reuse being it keeping that exact same object in its same conditions to where it can be used again and again.

Speaker 2:

Hey there, quick break to remind any founders or VCs listening. If you are looking for deal flow, seeking to raise funding, looking for partners to help service your needs, or perhaps you're looking for corporate investment partners, feel free to reach out to us through our Slack channel, which can be found in the description. Because we meet a lot of people in this space, we set aside time each week to make introductions to the various people that we encounter. This is something we do free of charge in order to help these incredible companies solving climate change to scale. Looking forward to hearing from you in the Slack channel.

Speaker 1:

When you're breaking it down. there's more energy involved with that process. There's different buyers that are needed to actually use those weaker materials in that process from recycled content and unfortunately much of that is not able to be captured at this point in time to actually be used again But from a reuse where the item is staying in its same consistent function. it enables you to avoid needing to manufacture and transport that item again and again from between different locations And then you can also make more on-site, avoid the cost as well as the emissions involved from more of those processes and enable and compared to many single-use options as well, even many bio-based options the ability to greatly reduce the impact and the cost associated with producing something, because you're not needing to produce it each time. you're just getting a longer lifespan from better materials in that process.

Speaker 2:

What do you say to people who might be like well, you know what. That's a great problem, but it's so complicated. Why not just use biodegradable packaging? Is there a specific argument against that, or is there a specific problem with doing it that way?

Speaker 1:

So it's not that I'm definitely not against biodegradable packaging.

Speaker 1:

I think there's a lot of rooms where biodegradables can be great options as well, and I think it will be a mix of of both biodegradable and reusable to really work on solving this And hopefully even some of the more reusable packaging can be made of better biodegradable materials.

Speaker 1:

It's just right now biodegradable per use is more expensive for more groups to adopt. Where much of that packaging has a, the materials are newer, in their infancy, so they need to be manufactured each time, be transported to each location. There's still disposable and disposal associated with each of those materials itself, wherever they need to end up so that they can have some sort of end life. And from any of that manufacturing and transportation again and again in this process and disposal, there's still recurring emissions from that, whereas with a single system where it's manufactured, then going to a place where it can then be used again, it's staying in that system and only having emissions from it being cleaned Ideally. There are some examples outside of where they'll be transported by cars. Ideally, with circular systems, you're really trying to keep them as close to where they're going to be operating so that you're not needing to increase the impact of those items either and the cost involved with each of those materials.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so it sounds like even if you do go the biodegradable route, it's not necessarily the most sustainable solution because of the increased, there's more cost, but also you have to continue producing items and then you're just letting it go. Why has this problem not been solved yet? What's been the main reason why either nobody's tackled it or it hasn't been solved already? Because I'm assuming this isn't necessarily a very new idea per se maybe somewhat new, but not like it did. just come out yesterday, this idea, right? Hey, there are you building a climate tech business and looking for very specialized talent? Consider reaching out to our sponsors, next Wave Partners. Next Wave are experts in talent acquisition, recruitment and retention across the climate tech, renewables and ESG spaces globally. so if your team is growing or you're looking to make a career change yourself, feel free to reach out to Next Wave at Next-WavePartnerscom or reach out to one of their consultants directly via their LinkedIn page.

Speaker 1:

It's a good question, and I think that there's not just one felt reason. I think there's. For a long time, a lot of our systems have been more driven by consumerism, where the consumer hasn't had to have been directly exposed to what their cost of packaging is, where the suppliers of that packaging have been more interested in showcasing their branding and representing their product information about it, versus necessarily providing a package that can be reused across other brands to be used as well. That's one thing that will be interesting for the circular economy to also work to address, to make sure that these companies can actually still keep some semblance of recognition for their clients that are working to use that.

Speaker 1:

But I think there's also a beneficial mechanism of being reusable packaging is that it's not going to be stuck in someone's mind as something that is thrown away and is a cheap, quality thing that can be disposed of easily. In a similar sense to that, that cost and awareness of the issues of waste has not been top of mind for many people. Until 2018, the United States was exporting a lot of its plastic waste to China for it to deal with. It was a big wake-up call for me was that when New York Times released an article that China announced that they were no longer going to import.

Speaker 1:

US plastic waste and I said well, why are we sending this over to them? to begin with? And many Southeast Asian countries have still been importing it from us, but many of those groups don't have ecosystems to be able to handle that waste and more and more of those groups just are not even able to take more of that on. So as it becomes closer to our shores and we're going to need to deal with those systems, more so and as well, with the pandemic hitting, i think that's been a really big wake-up call for people to see around in their home as to what how much waste is in front of them, just that they're producing themselves and can they do better from their own actions that they're looking to take.

Speaker 2:

That's kind of crazy that we're shipping our waste. Is it because they want the products or just because, like hey, these countries are willing to have us pay them to take it, even though it involves us shipping it across the entire ocean?

Speaker 1:

So, yeah, there's a lot that goes into that, and I can't strictly say all the reasons why one country would decide versus another. Some of it's been just based on the trade deals that they've implemented for other types of goods. That's one of the other things that we included with it, because much of that that waste still doesn't is not getting repurposed into other things. It's then just ending up in another location.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, well, just from one landfill to the other or from one spot to just a landfill somewhere else. So it's kind of interesting. I never really thought about it. I knew that we transported amongst ourselves in the US in different places. I think I heard recently that we're running out of landfill capacity in New York State for New York City's waste, for example. But let's talk about your solution a bit. So how are you going about solving this problem? What, specifically, are the key components to making this work?

Speaker 1:

So how were we started with this? So we're looking at making it easier for both the individual to reuse, where we understand that, like they were comparing to the process of currently just throwing something away Just super simple, and trash cans are around in many different locations for that to be feasible. But we want to make reuse as simple as that but also provide more of a technological element to incentivize and ensure that the individuals that are engaging in it are engaging in the lovers, to ensure that this is something that they want to continue doing, whether by representing the environmental benefits that we're already looking to do, by showcasing that they're saving a container from the landfill each time that they continue to return a container, as well as to show their lifetime doing it, but also now that we can track more metrics around that really work towards being able to lock in or show to these organizations the real cost savings that they're providing to them by continuing to keep that packaging and circulation and drive towards reward mechanisms that can unlock and fuel, incentivize, from the dollar perspective, that this really is a better behavior for all people to engage in And, with that, i think, one of the. There's a lot of work in progress here, but we're in order to make this behavior really sticky. We really see that this isn't something that we need it to be not only easy but fun and something that people want to keep coming back to do, not something that they just have to do and come to dread about doing it. So how that looks like with us currently, and so we've started to work on making this process easier for individuals.

Speaker 1:

As I talked to previously, i was a student. I understood the pains that I had using reusable takeout containers on campuses And I remember that and realized that a lot of this loss that I got led to was that, although I loved using my container, i would forget to bring it back to the dining hall. I would have four or five containers in my room at the end of the year that would never get returned, because the next time I would go to get food I would still have that container in my room. So we're working to make that process easier for them to return by enabling them to return without direct supervision from a dining attendant watching them return that container and or keeping track of a physical key chain that they would still lose, that they can just simply scan a QR code at the pickup or drop application and scan the container that they're picking up or returning to engage in this behavior and collect digital credits for the containers that they're returning to ensure that they can keep that container the ability to continue to reuse again and again.

Speaker 2:

Interesting. So it's really again, it's not the hardware that's the problem, It's not the containers, It's more of the behavior for getting things like. I have my coffee thermos that I sometimes forget to bring to work with me. So when I go to my favorite coffee shop down the road, I can't get my 10 cents discount for not using a cup right. So that's interesting How.

Speaker 1:

And so we're just jumping on that real quick as well that from a consumer side, i really see that as a lot of the problem, but from the enterprise side, a lot of it as well is that the total lack of transparency into how these systems are operating, where previously there was no data or almost no data as to how how much packaging was available at different locations, how much was currently checked out with students that could potentially end up coming back, that they would just go through a large droughts of packaging and then need to repurchase huge elements and then might get some back at different points of time. They were working to better fuel with them and to provide them with the from this process to help them be able to visualize really what their inventory levels are across their locations, as well as be able to have insights into like how much of that packaging really is getting brought back, to ensure that by measuring the problem it can really work towards solving it as well.

Speaker 2:

How are some of those ways that you get people, because you mentioned it sounds like multi-location. So let's maybe talk about the example you gave, which is universities right, you know? is it? usually there's one kind of point that they need to be returned to. Is it multiple? How do you manage? Do you have like certain gamification that you do inside of it to make sure? hey, you know, maybe we'll try to get them to return to this place or any way that you can engage with them. I'm really curious to understand how you use the app and kind of like interact with human psychology to get that, to get that achieved.

Speaker 2:

Hey there, thanks for listening to this episode. If you made it this far, it's likely that you're enjoying the show, so I wanted to ask your help. If you're enjoying it, please give us a review on Apple podcasts and share with somebody in the same industry who might find this interesting. And if you're interested in getting summaries of these episodes, go subscribe to our newsletter that comes out on LinkedIn, and Substack Links can be found in the description. Thanks for your help in growing through each of this show.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, so we're definitely don't try to.

Speaker 1:

We want to make this as easy as possible for people to continue to return, so we're there's no requirement that they like, if they pick up from Dining Hall A, that they have to return it to Dining Hall A. There is still a flow of packaging between the different locations to help them better, and, as we collect data as to where they're getting picked up and dropped off, can help them understand which locations might have more different points of time So they can return the packaging wherever the there are drop-off locations currently, so with our current partners, that's been mainly at the direct dining halls, because those are the places where they're going to be cleaned anyways. However, we're also, as we continue to iterate on this and work to build in systems with them, wanted to enable that the drop-off process to be even more seamless, to be able to occur at other locations, like their student dorms and facilities, where they it's will most provide the least friction possible to ensure that those containers get back to a return location and get transported back to a place where they can be cleaned.

Speaker 2:

How are some of the ways that you demonstrate there? I'm curious do you have any data on how it affected the people doing it? Maybe you did some test runs where there was no lifetime impact of what you're doing and then you implement that and you see a spike in usage where it's like, oh wow, you, you know, if you take it back with you, you'll, you know, save this much. And then there's a kind of a score, a lifetime score, any, any things that you can share their insight, as you were learning from the, from the consumers.

Speaker 1:

Sorry, can you or do you mind repeating your question?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah mainly I'm trying to. I'm curious to hear you know, if you I don't know what the process was when you started, but if you were collecting data on, okay, how many people are returning it and now we're going to introduce this new thing, which is okay. Here's how much impact you're saving right in terms of something visual on this application for them. And then, over time, you know seeing that spike because people are like wow, this feels really good, they can visualize what they're doing, because otherwise it's just like, oh, i forgot my my container right Versus. Oh man, i left a negative impact.

Speaker 1:

And I would still say that to that like. We're still very early days on evaluating these tests of like, the and and making more of these changes. So we have seen that with our, we've recently implemented a change less like a month ago now. Even so, that like really worked, highlighting, with each container returned, that they're saving container from the landfill by doing that, versus just talking about, like the credits that were being redeemed back to them, that we're working to just showcase that more in front of them as well as highlighting the benefits of that. We've seen a better I don't I don't have a direct number increase on this from like the behavior perspective, but that's something that we're still looking to measure and reinforce as we continue to AB test to see what, what sort of metrics are best driving that behavior We're really seeing from.

Speaker 1:

I think that there's been more of a benefit, but not like the driving decision within that space. The convenient mechanisms have been more of the things that we've really seen like doing. Doing that change from searching over from as well for like the more systematic changes of campuses switching to reusable packaging only for takeout, as has driven more towards over like a groundswell and education around like what the benefits are of this, as well as their great uptick in that that packaging use being and the amount of packaging that's being saved from those those from reuse. But it's still something that we are. We are examining and just working to gather more data as we can to look into more of these tests that we're looking to run.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, this to me honestly like I nerd out about these things a bit because I think it's you know all comes down to human psychology and how you interact with things. And in the design aspect, right, Because what you're doing is, like you know, the app is the app, right, But it really comes down to what is the, what are the kind of levers that you can pull, How is it designed and everything that you can get it. Because I assume you know, once you crack that, you would then be able to use that, that insight on different models, right, You can then apply it to more commercial settings rather than just universities, for example. I'm really fascinated by this. I'm keen to definitely see how this goes in the coming months and year or so and then come have you back on.

Speaker 2:

I'd like to talk about the getting started part. So we've kind of covered the solution in summary of the high level, right, People are able to interact with this app and you're working on the nuances, on how to get that more effective, and they've returned them and they're rewashed and reused and maybe redistributed amongst the various dining halls in this case. But how did you get started when, once you decided on this idea kind of walked through the origin a little bit more on. Okay, I had the idea, I went and validated it this way and then I just decided you know what I gotta do this. I wanna know how you made that leap.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, i mean. So I talked to a little bit about regarding my going out and talking to restaurants, but really what that meant was I went out to a restaurant and like what order? like looked at who I was ordering takeout from and just talk to them to see I understood, like just timing, allies, they might be busy but it was like hey, is there a time that I could come back to? I'm an entrepreneur, like in your area, and I'd love to learn more about your business and like the different problems that you're facing. So then there's for restaurants some of them have different down times, like between like 2 pm and 5 pm, where there's just not as many customers coming in, that the owners were pretty willing to just sit with me and talk about what they were facing and like what their takeout action costs were like and to better understand from them, like really what their costs were, what their access was like, what was important to them from their packaging, where some of them was like it was really important that their brand still was in front of their customers faces, but a lot of them were thinking about, like the at the time, about the supply chain and how they could really dependably get the packaging that they needed to supply their customers.

Speaker 1:

And then, from like a university perspective, it really was going through the avenues that I already knew of being an alumni at Wesleyan, talking through the sustainability director there and getting connected with the dining director to talk to them about what they were doing with their reusable container program and learning from them that they'd actually switched back during the pandemic to dispose bowls but were based on replacements and struggling to get back into switching back to reusable. And then also talking with friends about this who were able to reach out on my behalf to introduce me to their universities and dining groups to be able to have those initial conversations to understand what they were working through. So it's really just trying to tap into networks and even, like the local communities that existed around me, to determine best or to really not just make assumptions but make sure that I directly heard what those. I got those data points of how different people and customer and clientele, potential clientele were feeling about packaging and the systems around them around it.

Speaker 2:

So how long did you spend kind of poking around before you decided, you know, i'm gonna start actually building something, and then what was that step? So how long? and then what was the next step?

Speaker 1:

So we probably spent so I started thinking through the idea of it at the very beginning of 2021.

Speaker 1:

And so I think we thought about this or probably close to half a year while I was still working on something else full time to then really come up with a better idea and start building the initial building blocks and talking with, like the dining team at Wazzling about what an MVP app might look like to help solve that students could use and practice.

Speaker 1:

So we what that looked like was then it's still a little bit close to what we have today is something that students could use to scan that the packaging in and out, to be able to identify, without the need for a physical key chain or a direct container swap, that they had indeed returned that container and brought that back into the system, and then it was then getting on the ground with them to get that feedback as to what was working and what was not, where we quickly found that where we had left the thought it'd be really helpful to them to leave the scanner active to make it as fast as possible for students to be able to scan, and then discovered that by leaving it active, students were scanning things that they weren't intending to scan. So by adding a simple mechanism where they were to allow them to tap to scan when they really intended to, could really ensure a better efficacy for the process and make it an easier process for them to actually reuse the packaging itself.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, okay, interesting. And then so are you. I don't know, might wanna make sure I've got this. Are you a technical person, like, did you build this yourself or how did you do it? well about that, because there's a lot of people out there who have ideas and kind of execution but aren't so much on the technical side.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I would say I'm not very technical So I did not do any of the coding for this. Fortunately, I have an amazing co-founder, Luke, who is my freshman year roommate at Wesleyan and was who I immediately reached out to once I was thinking about working on the user And he wrote all the code for the RBAC and API and we tied in some with an external group to just finish out an initial app itself. But I have come from the business side of things and also working to design the pages and what they would look like from and from a feel of what I would like to use and would help me be able to perform these processes and then get the direct feedback from the students and then test everything before implementation, as well as working being on the ground to gather that feedback, to ensure that we could continue to improve and talk to the bring that feedback back to our technical team to ensure that anything that was built next really fit the needs of the people that we're going to be using it.

Speaker 2:

And so how did you go about collecting the feedback from the students Like? was this a manual process? Were you able to really effectively get it collected frequently, and how did that work?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, so it's still been like a manual process and I think that's still a really good thing about when we're at operationalize. But what that looks like is it's an aspect of what they're doing for using a tick out. So it was me being on site at those locations to talk to students about the program, having direct, strong communication built with the dining teams that were on site to be able to call them and have them be able to openly reach out whenever they were experiencing issues, to ensure that they could get a hold of me as quickly as possible, but also I mean as a function of them using our app to take out. I could be there on site at these locations and then talk to students that were using the app to better hear from them what they liked, what they didn't and what they might see as things that they could help them in the future.

Speaker 2:

Okay, interesting. Yeah, i find it fascinating in terms of a collective feedback. I think there's probably so many businesses out there that could really really benefit from just taking like good feedback, because there's taking feedback and there's getting reviews and then there's really really getting valuable insights. I think that obviously, you can't build everything into a feature if somebody requests it, but if you get a lot of people requesting it, perhaps consider it. I always wish I had this certain I am particular about my own product, so it's like I'm like oh man, this could be so much better. I wish I had a button directly to the product manager and be like hey, i would like this. I'm not sure if anybody else wants that, but can we check?

Speaker 1:

this out. Oh, absolutely, i was totally with you on that And I think with that as well, it's been learning through the process itself. Like I didn't have a ton of experience beforehand trying to with gathering feedback although I had some that making sure that with being physically present and able to ask them the questions about what we're doing that it wasn't done so in a leading way, that I felt that I could see that, depending on how I introduced the way that it would ask questions, it would lead to different responses.

Speaker 1:

That if I started off by saying hey, i'm the CEO and founder of Reuser. people would immediately switch to a different gear of trying to be nicer about things, just trying to give the real feedback as to what they really were experiencing.

Speaker 2:

You need to apply the mom test principles, right? You can't ask somebody who's gonna tell you oh yeah, it's great, keep going Interesting.

Speaker 1:

That's what the feedback is gonna be hopeful.

Speaker 2:

Exactly exactly. And how does a business model work currently? Because, if I understand it correctly, you guys are already making money. But what's the business model now versus what you think it might be in the future? It's kind of keen to chat through that part.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, so we We currently sell to campuses, so we're the clients that we're directly working with are the individual universities as well as the dining services that partner with these groups.

Speaker 1:

So for Wesleyan this has been selling directly to like Wesleyan has the final say on the purchase from us and buying the software from our subscription. But for Trinity College that we work with, it's in conjunction with Trinity College, like Chartwells is also covering that from further budget, which Chartwells is a dining service that operates under Compass Group across many different campuses across the US, so it's tying. There is a very intricate system and many universities are that there's different layers of this of working up through, like the dining change as well as through the individual institution itself, for through the different partners for these purchasing decisions, but has also led to good networks that we're looking to explore to help be able to replicate these models at other clients as well. So we can, by helping Wesleyan and Trinity and Cornerstone reuse can, showcase that to their larger dining services to help them show how easy it can be to implement and track this information at other places as well.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I mean, I think there's obviously maybe somewhat from a university's perspective, an interest to be more sustainable, of course, but also I think I'd be keen to understand if there is also a financial reward that could be there once this is scaled right. So in the long run, can this actually, even if they're paying for a subscription, can this actually save them money from a materials use perspective? Is that the idea in the future?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, that's. The whole idea behind this is that from day one we're looking to unlock or essentially day 90 work to unlock cost savings for these programs that if they would previously be replacing like inventories of or multiple inventories of, reusable packaging every year, that they can instead built into our model, like we're building in our safe, instead of paying like a larger amount to replace all of that packaging, pay us a subscription in addition to what they've currently paid for packaging and ensure that that packaging stays in use longer so that we can really end the economics around. It is really around 30 uses per container, per reusable container. It starts to become cheaper than disposable packaging because the main point of that cost actually comes from the cost of washing the container, where there's regular energy being used, and that process of all this assembly for costs associated with it.

Speaker 2:

So is there a way that that can be even further mitigated in the future through energy costs? Or is that just like the average, or is that something that can also improve?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I think there's definitely a lot that or I think that can go even lower based on energy costs in the future, and that is also based on the estimates that we had based on specific regions. So I think that that can. as more and more energy production is needed and also is starting to be created, i do believe those costs can go even lower from that.

Speaker 2:

Out of curiosity. Maybe it's too premature to ask. I don't wanna ask you things too early, but have you been able to see the data on how many times currently in your current pilots, that these containers have been reused?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, so we're already beating 30,. we're already at around 60 uses per place And we're looking to continue to grow that number so that we can really better lock in these inventories for our clients and ensure that they're continuing to drive the lock in not only environmental benefits but better cost savings metrics for them as well. Okay, interesting. What that means like from a return rate perspective is it's essentially just over 98% return rate.

Speaker 2:

Oh, wow, okay, interesting, that's good. That's good And in terms of for the business, have you so you're into it? what? two years now?

Speaker 1:

basically into this kind of two-ish, two and a half Yeah, i would go so we're just over one year from launching our first pilot, but two years from like starting to really work on the idea and get an action.

Speaker 2:

And so so far this is obviously a software play, but there is that component. Do you have to partner with the reusable container companies, or is there already kind of a preferred partner that these universities use? How does that work?

Speaker 1:

So we like to think of ourselves as the operating system for reuse. So we're really just acting as a software layer to go on top of it to make it easier to reuse. But we've already partnered with a couple of different groups to provide reusable packaging to the groups that need reusable containers to get up and running. That being said, we're really or are packaging agnostic, so work towards being able to operate on top of any type of packaging to ensure that it can be reused longer. So we've already worked with a couple of clients that had existing reusable container inventories to add our labels on top of them and add them into our system to ensure that we could track for them how they were being reused, ensure that they could still drive value more out of these containers to keep them in circulation.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and so what is the, i guess, what does the growth look like from here? Like, what is the next step? now that you're kind of getting some of the basic points proved, And I'd be keen to just go big picture, what are you hoping to achieve over the coming years and what's maybe the face is that it's supposed to look like, at least currently? I know plans change, but I'm keen to hear it.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, so what this?

Speaker 1:

there will definitely be a lot of change involved, as most road maps do, but our next big step that I'm really excited to take is to build out our first real client app, where we have currently been providing reports on a regular basis to our clients to be able to visualize the usage of the inventory, but enabling them to directly be able to view those insights in real time, be able to extract reports as they need, as well as being able to perform different functions themselves, like bulk scanning inventory in a different locations to have an accurate record of how many containers are available at each location and really available to still be reused And additionally, on that side I think, work to gain better insights into environmental impact and return rate.

Speaker 1:

but then, from the consumer perspective, really look to really hone in on this process of an online incentives through gamification. So, like I mentioned that we're, as we can, now that we have like data that's coming in as to how many times someone reuses a container, work towards rewarding them with different as they cross different milestones and thresholds and unlock cost savings itself, potentially like milestones and badges, but really show their own, represent that own impact to them so that they can better feel pulled into the space of why they wanna do this, that to make this behavior not only easy but fun for them to keep engaging in. And I think there's a lot of ways that we can do that with not just the dining halls, as we work towards possibly unlocking those savings from them, but tying into communities and other partners that want to support those customers that are really wanting, that are already engaging in these beneficial actions for society, to help provide discounts or other rewards for them as they continue to just participate with reuse.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, i mean, i can imagine, and maybe you can speak to this a tad, or at least your idea of it, but what about from the customer loyalty perspective, if you've got a chain like dig or something or a Kava that's reusing these things? what does it look like in your mind, or do you have data on this, in terms of a customer loyalty and perhaps even driving more revenue?

Speaker 1:

I don't think we have enough data on that currently, since we're still at the just in campuses right now.

Speaker 1:

but, that being said, you're totally right on the money of where, as we can get to restaurants in these other spaces that we're regularly returning to and potentially in like grocery groups or places where they're using reusable bags and other types of products that have no insight into how their customers are engaging with these already more environmental beneficial activities, as they can gain better insight into. that can help them really get a better picture of who their customer is, as well as for those customers to get really feel that value and unlock more value from engaging in those engaging in reuse and ensuring that more of that, by showing that they continue to return to these locations and participated at these places, that they can unlock more discounts and unlock more value for them to be able to drive into. So it really becomes a de facto loyalty program, as you can continue to collect, provide more of those insights directly back to both the consumer and the client that's already has a relationship with those customers.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, i mean, i'm just my mind is wandering, but I think there's so many things that not even just in the sustainability side, but there's so many things that if you really spend time to think about how can I my loyalty program really drive for the revenue and a better relationship with my clients or my consumers. there's probably so many things that you could do And I can imagine there being quite a number of potential partnerships with rewards companies or different things that are already there and you can integrate. I'd be really fascinated. I'm sure once you prove it out, you guys will have a lot of interesting, interesting announcements. One thing I guess I'd be keen to, since you're really early in the company are there any growth hacks or like really kind of fun things that you've done to try to gain traction? I'd be really keen to just hear any of the gritty things that you've done.

Speaker 1:

It's a good question. I think that I'm definitely we're still pretty early on in this to be able to say like any of that successfully, but I think, as well as really working to know who, you're really providing that value to that in addition to, like, you talked about the top down. So we I think go-to-market strategies is a key way that that can occur, and when we were looking at reaching out to, when we reached out to Wesleyan directly, we knew that they tied in directly to Bon Appetit and could help by replicating or by proving a successful model of reuse at Wesleyan could then work towards show Bon Appetit that this could work at other of their locations as well. But also by learning more about those groups and those larger channels itself and bed with them could then work towards like with creative dining that we've worked with that haven't like they directly wanted to support like startups and groups working within sustainability to drive and help support people within that space that they invited us to actually talk to their clients and directors about what we're doing already. So that was by having like establishing that relationship through our community was a great entryway to be able to gain exposure to many different groups that were taking a lot, much more times actually do so.

Speaker 1:

otherwise, that it's, i would say. it's important to have one strategy nailed down, but it's also important to test and find out what works best. that going through, if you can make sure, before you focus all your time in one area, testing multiple hypothesis with that, such as we're going from individuals to larger, as well as looking at going from the larger dining service to many clients across them as well, just to see which ones actually gonna have the broader impact more easily.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, this is pretty fascinating. I have a. I think what's also sticking out to me that seems quite interesting is that, if I'm not mistaken again, i'm not an expert at technology, but it sounds as though you have a particular set of customer data not customer data, behavioral data that other people, even other big companies, if they want to replicate this, they may not be able to because they're not already doing it right, and these are very particular things. Maybe they could apply some of this learning to existing data they have. I'm not sure, but I think that that's quite fascinating to think about how that could be valuable in the future as well. Interesting In terms of any other. Are there any other things you've noodled on and thought you know there's another side effect or potential benefit that we haven't even thought about from other than you know? we're not letting these things go into the trash can after one use. Are there other benefits to the people using it? Any other kind of positive outcomes that you've seen that were not anticipated?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, i think I've talked to a little bit on this already, but one of the biggest ones that surprised me was, as we started, like, my biggest assumption around, or going into or thinking about reuse ahead of time was that the two biggest drivers would be cost savings and environmental benefits. And it's not that those aren't important they still are. But there's a third key, one of sovereignty over supply chain has been a lot more important than I realized or even thought about ahead of time. That, with the problems that the pandemic had around and still have around, packaging needing to travel long distances from other locations to what's gonna be available, are they actually going to need to go to a different supplier to access the packaging that they needed. That with Reaseables, you can have gained data and have better insight into, like, what inventory you really have, how long, like, make sure that it can stay in circulation longer, so you're not needing to repurchase this frequently, and allow you to open up more time and as well as get better quality products to then stay in circulation longer.

Speaker 2:

What is the total size of this market? Do you have idea of the TAM in general?

Speaker 1:

I think I really there's a lot of different numbers that can be thrown around for a TAM in this space and it really depends on what type of the location and like what all gets included with that. For what I talk to when I talk to investors, I think it can very easily be over a $65 billion market because in addition, there's over 3 million restaurants, hotels and grocery chains, as well as these campuses, that are already spending roughly $10,000 a year or more on take-up action that can be migrated towards. sorry $5 million was the number of groups in that space that are spending over 12 grand a year on that And that's really on a conservative figure for that. There's a lot more types of packaging that could be potentially pulled into that, But there's so much like the biggest competition to reasonable packaging right now is disposable packaging, where most of that many of that is going through polystyrene, which has now been linked to being a carcinogen.

Speaker 1:

out of eating out of There's a lot of concerns. out of PFAT like eating out of the just more single use plastic packaging is just like it being having more PFAS directly in that as well. that many like reusable packaging already has some inherent like health benefits to that as well, that we can work towards locking in and as more consumers understand that and like, more legislation is quickly getting implemented in a lot of places around those, I think, can really just bring to the forefront the why and or like the, the change needed for many of these systems to ensure that reuse can get implemented in many different facets of life.

Speaker 2:

Do you know how big the like? how much is the spend either? globally? I don't know what numbers you have, but the spend on disposable packaging for, let's just say, restaurants or universities, something that's a little bit more. Do you know how much that is already?

Speaker 1:

So for university campuses, like in the US many of them so we talk about in metrics it's already, they're already spending over a billion dollars. And that's just campuses here in the US. Globally. You take that and include the restaurants with it, they're already spending well over 60 billion dollars in that space.

Speaker 2:

Wow, interesting. This is pretty fascinating. We're running out of time here, but I did want to ask if there's other business models that you think that this can be applied to, or other business models you can go into in the near future things that you're, I guess. Generally speaking, where are you looking for in the future? You talked about the roadmap, but like what are you excited for coming next and kind of open any question there?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, i think that there's a. I don't want to give too much away, so I think that just as a teaser from that, i think, like I said, I think there's a lot of just outside of clamshell containers there's other, so many other types of packaging that this can be applied to. So, other than that be soup bowls that can then be added in what are better mechanisms for people to be able to see the impact of their reusable cups and mugs, to be able to see how much, how many, disposable bottles that they're actually saving from that process. So we would eventually be able to unlock that for reusable bags, for all shopping as well, and being able to tie into the partners that otherwise would have provided that, to be able to showcase to them really the savings that they're unlocking that their customers are already unlocking for them, and drive more customers to engage in that, so that they can drive more value to themselves as well.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, i mean this is crazy. I know it seems maybe like a simple product to some people listening, perhaps, but, like to me, this is very. There's so many nuances and interesting partnerships. I'm really a big fan of partnerships and I think that there's so many ways that this could really kind of reshape. I was just thinking being in New York City finding points of hey, you may not be able to get the person who got their Uber Eats or whatever delivered to easily remember to go return to the driver, or maybe there's things you can do, but maybe there's like depots where you can deposit it on your way to work. There's a bin somewhere that's specifically for this.

Speaker 2:

I've thought about this in the past If there's ways that cities can incentivize their cities to be cleaner by having some type of digital payment for depositing trash or something and similar mindsets. I think there's so many things that could happen with this. We don't have time to get into it, but anyways, this has been really great. I really appreciate you coming on. What are your asks to the audience and where can people reach you?

Speaker 1:

It's been such a pleasure as well talking with you more about this. I was. You know this is such a huge passion to me and I really appreciate you giving coverage to these topics and really working to get more exposure and get a lot of oxygen to the space. Regarding ASSA, we're always looking now for more partners. So if you know of any other types of, if your audience knows any campuses that are looking to where they would like to adopt reuse whether that be universities where we've primarily been operating at, or potentially like hospitals or corporate campuses that are already using reusable packaging, in places with dining services that are already cleaning and collecting plates that could potentially clean and collect reusable containers as well, in places where people can most easily bring this packaging back by being at those facilities regularly. I would love to talk with them more about that and see how we can help, how we can find us. So I'm at FindMeOnLintern or Twitter. At ReuseRevol. I'm also for any of the company handles. It's ReuserOfficial, so ReuseR Official.

Speaker 2:

Awesome, this has been great. I really, really enjoyed this and I'm keen to see how things go. Maybe I'll dig up some context for you. Hopefully I can see what I can do and help.

Speaker 1:

I really appreciate just meeting you, silas, and getting able to have more of these conversations, and I hope I just look forward to getting into the city at some point again, to seeing in Absolutely.

Speaker 2:

We'll get a coffee, hopefully at some place that offers reusable containers.

Speaker 1:

Sounds good.

Speaker 2:

We'll see you in the next one.

Cracking the Code on Reusable Containers
Solving the Problem of Sustainable Packaging
Improving Reusable Takeout Container Return Behavior
From Idea to MVP
Student Feedback for Business Model Improvement
Sustainable Reusable Packaging and Cost Savings
Online Incentives for Sustainable Behavior
Reusable Packaging's Billion Dollar Market
Promoting Reusable Packaging Adoption