There’s nothing quite like opening a steamy takeout box before binging Netflix on your couch. But after you’ve enjoyed your lo mein and thrown out the box, the packaging will go on to live a much longer life in the landfill.
Plastic bags, bottles, food containers, and cutlery — all of which make up most delivery orders — account for more than half of the world’s ocean litter.
The issue is only growing: The pandemic normalized the use of QR codes, and an estimated 33% of food orders are now digital. As a result, reducing food packaging waste is critical in combating climate change and serving green-conscious consumers.
To make your guilty pleasures guilt-free, German startup Vytal manufactures custom reusable containers that are leased to restaurants on a pay-per-use basis. Founded in 2019 and led by Sven Witthoeft, Tim Breker, and Fabian Barthel, Vytal currently reports having 3.5k+ partner restaurants across Germany and a handful of other countries.
The startup has created a range of packaging to fit all types of establishments. It currently offers reusable bowls, coffee mugs, pizza boxes, trays, and sushi packaging.
Each container, which is made to the restaurant’s specifications, has an unique QR code that can be scanned before the packages are dispensed to customers.
Takeout enthusiasts can download Vytal’s app and order directly from participating restaurants. Each user gets their own QR code in-app, allowing the restaurant to link the packaging to the eater by scanning both parties’ codes.
Opting for Vytal’s container is free for customers as long as it’s returned within 14 days (the company reports a return rate of 99.3 %). Eaters don’t need to clean the containers, and they can be returned at any participating partner restaurant.
The QR codes do more than track customer borrowing: They allow Vytal to collect data on the entire takeout process, which can then be fed into machine-learning algorithms to forecast the needs for individual restaurants in the partner network.
The algorithm predicts how many of each type of container a restaurant will need in a given week, and automatically generates a fulfillment order that ensures restaurants have the right amount of packaging on hand.
As of September 2022, Vytal has replaced 4.3m units of disposable packaging with reusable containers and delivered 320k reusable packaging items.