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Reusable Networks - how do they work?

As we know, the way in which society chooses to drink coffee and eat out has changed dramatically over the last few decades, perhaps not in all cultures, but evidently so in Australia. 

Long gone are the days of extra fluffy cappuccinos in small white porcelain cups with those gastly cubes of sugar on the side. These days we’re now largely single-use dependent, placing convenience over environmental and social logic. 

Thankfully, the status quo is changing and included in the next evolution of our cafe culture are Reusable Networks. 

What is a Reusable Network? 

A Reusable Network is designed to replace single-use takeaway packaging with equivalent reusable solutions that are borrowed, similar to a library.  In most cases, a customer pays a small deposit to use the item, whether a cup or container, and receives their deposit back when the item is returned. All networks operate slightly differently - we explore these below. 

The network effect comes into play when multiple cafes participate as customers can return the item to any participating business. However, individual businesses can also utilise a network on their own, providing a swap service to their regular customers. 

The advantage of networks is that they appeal to people who wish to do the right thing but who are forgetful when it comes to BYO, or who are caught out getting takeaway when they didn't expect it. 

Reusable Networks are easily integrated into current business operations and are especially popular with regular customers and those that order ahead through text or apps. 

They can also greatly benefit a business's bottom line through ongoing savings on disposable items. They encourage repeat customers and support a healthier planet.

Are they safe to use? 

It might be strange to think about using a cup/container that has been floating around a reuse network and wondering whether or not this is a safe practice. All cups received by cafes, whether clean on arrival or not, undergo commercial cleaning procedures, just like the cutlery, glasses and plates we use to eat off in cafes and restaurants - making them perfectly safe and hygienic to use. In fact this is one of the advantages -  the cafe is able to wash the cup and be assured of its cleanliness.

Reusable Networks currently available in South Australia

Reusably (South Australian based)

Reusably offer food-grade stainless steel cups and bowls/containers as part of a network, facilitated by an app.

For the customer:

Woman holding a reusable cup and man holding a reusable bowl

Customers download Reusably app and subscribe (monthly $3.99 or yearly $43) to access the full network of reusable cups and containers. When ordering their takeaway coffee, users scan a tag on the counter, select the number of cups and bowls they would like to check out, then present the confirmation message to a staff member. Users follow the same process when returning a container. They can have up to 2 cups and 1 bowl checked out at any time with 21 days to return containers. If not returned within 21 days, users are charged $15 per cup and $20 per bowl (to cover our cost of replacing the container in the system), after which they can keep their container.

For the business:

Businesses are given a log in to a portal where they can manage stock and see data on transactions. Once the customer has displayed the successful takeaway/return message, "REUSABLY" is added to the takeaway order on the POS system, indicating to the barista or chef to serve the takeaway in a Reusably. Containers that are returned then go through a standard cleaning cycle along with other in house crockery, ready to be served to the next customer. Reusably provide all marketing and display materials.

Returnr (Melbourne based, available nationally)

Returnr offer food-grade stainless steel cups and containers as a part of their network. Lids are not included, but are available to purchase. 

For the customer:

Customers pay a $6 deposit, refundable on return. If they choose, they can purchase a reusable silicone lid or use a compostable lids provided by the cafe/restaurant. They can also choose to keep swapping their cup, keeping their deposit in the system. 

For the business:

Businesses pay for disposable compostable lids and an access membership fee of $48 per month. Returnr provide all marketing and display materials. 

Returnr’s range of products can be accessed by cafes in exchange of a $5 deposit for each item, which can be returned for a refund to Returnr at any time. Deposit costs are recouped via the customer $6 deposit. 

Retub (Melbourne based, available nationally)

Retub is a reusable food container that has a built-in exchange program called Reswap. 

For the customer:

The customer first purchases a Retub. There are two sizes available, 500ml or 1litre. Containers retail from $38-$45 (at the time of this post). The customer then owns the container and can join the Reswap service.

Retub containers have a glass insert. When the customer make a swap, they do so by going to a participating Reswap retailer, and the retailer swaps the glass insert with another with the food items inside. This ensures they are eating from a clean vessel. The Retub can also be used as a regular BYO container (i.e. without swapping the insert).  

For the business:

Basic set up as a participating food vendor is currently free, the cafe/restaurant purchases the initial Retubs wholesale to then sell at retail to their customers, with cafes also being able to purchase additional glass inserts at a much subsidised rate to make sure there are sufficient swap quantities.

Some participating food vendors also let customers  simply borrow a clean inner retub container (even if you do not bring in a full retub) for a deposit.

Green Caffeen (NSW based, available nationally)

Green Caffeen is a swap and go reusable coffee cup system which utilises an app to manage transactions.

For the customer:

Customers download the Green Caffeen app, scan their cup out before taking it away and then scan it back in the next time they are in any participating cafe (like borrowing a book). It is free for customers as long as the cup is returned or swapped within 30 days.  If not, there is an overdue fee of $12.99 to cover the cost of the cup.

For the business:

For businesses there is no charge - Green Caffeen will supply cups and lids, as well as listing businesses on their app. Customers can return, scan and swap their cup at any participating cafe within the network.

Huskee Cups (NSW based, available nationally)

Huskee cups are known mostly as a BYO cup, but also operates as a Reusable Network.

For the customer:

The customer purchases a Huskee Cup to join the Huskeeswap network at participating cafes. Cups range from $16 - $20 at the time of this post.

A customer can then drop off a Huskee Cup at a participating venue, make their order and then receive it in a commercially cleaned Huskee Cup. Cups can be infinitely swapped through the network.

note:not all cafes that sell retail Huskee Cups are a part of the network.

For the business:

The business purchases wholesale Huskee Cups to retail to customers, as well as a ‘float’ of additional cups to start their network. Huskee recommends that a minimum of 12 cups be available for swap. The only expense to the business is the initial wholesale price purchase of the cup which neutralises when the same quantity of cups are sold at retail price. 

note: Huskee cups are not recyclable in municipal recycling systems due to their composite nature (they are made from coffee husks and polypropylene) . In an attempt to close the loop, Huskee accepts damaged and redundant cups back through their member cafes, where they aim to repurpose the discarded cups.

Renome (Perth based, available nationally)

RENOME runs as a ‘swap and go’ service for cups/ lids and is easy to set up and operate.

For the customer:

As a customer you pay a $5 deposit, which is refunded upon return. RENOME cups can be returned and exchanged infinitely within the network, to any participating cafe. 

To assist with ease of transaction ,RENOME also uses a token system where a branded keyring (Token) takes the place of the $5 deposit. A customer first pays $5 for a RENOME cup and lid, and upon the return of the cup (at selected partners) the customer can choose to receive the Token instead of cash. The Token can then be used next time.

For the business:

Businesses purchase the cups - a Basic Starter pack is $50, which includes 5 cups, lids and tokens, plus signage. There are no ongoing subscription or participation fees. The only expense to the business is the purchase of the cups. This cost is neutralised over time through a reduction of single-use packaging costs. The customer deposit covers the cost of the cup, so if it is not returned the business is not out of pocket. 

Cups are made from 100% food-grade polypropylene that can be cleaned easily in commercial dishwashers. When cups eventually reach their end-of-life, or are damaged, they can be returned to RENOME to be recycled into new cups, or can be recycled in kerbside recycling.

Getting started

If your business is looking at implementing a reusable network but you aren’t sure where to start, then get in touch with us, we can provide free advice and assistance for cafes.


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