COMMENT: Rousing customers to adopt reuse

Foodservice brands struggling with reusable packaging regulations need to invest in more effective communications, says Heather Davies

In France, the new anti-waste, pro-circular economy law (AGEC) came into force on January 1st 2023. This requires fast-food restaurants to replace single-use food containers with reusable crockery and cutlery for people eating in their establishments.

In such restaurants, the first few months have proved challenging for two main reasons. Firstly, reusable crockery and cutlery is disappearing. Some of it inadvertently ends up in the bin whilst the rest heads out of the door – either because customers think they are freebies or because they think the items have a resale value (yes, really). Secondly, post-covid, customers are more concerned about hygiene and many will order take-away to eat in, simply to get single-use wrappers and cutlery.

How can restaurants overcome these challenges? A long-lasting public awareness campaign is key. This could focus on different elements such as how items are washed (to overcome hygiene worries), the potential knock-on price rises if customers throw items away or take them out of the restaurant (to combat waste and theft) and the environmental benefits (to educate customers about the reasons behind the change).

To be effective campaigns should be delivered in multiple formats. Normalising the use of reusable tableware via social media feels like an obvious option which none of the big players appear to be exploiting. Providing information posters in-store and including visual guidelines on bins is another. Or how about gamifying bins for customers and/or providing feedback telling diners about the carbon or energy savings linked to their choices?

One question for chain restaurants is whether to brand reusable crockery. On the one hand, businesses want to add logos and colours for brand identity and loyalty; on the other, this has the effect of rendering the items more desirable. McDonald’s has opted for ultra low-impact branding, such as a small ‘M’ on an otherwise cream coloured plastic coffee cup or transparent soft drinks tumbler. Even so, I found five such reusable cups in the first three pages of results for ‘McDo’ on 

According to Burger King, which has trialled reusable tableware for a while, losses have fallen significantly since its introduction.

Whatever the branding approach, I would argue that restaurants need to allocate a considerable budget when making the switch to reusables to cover the cost of a long-term awareness campaign to limit the number of items that, one way or another, might find their way out of the restaurant and into the world.

Heather Davies is a sustainability communications expert. 

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