Start using reusable cups and containers now

As of July 2023, you will have to charge customers money for disposable plastic cups and plastic containers added to the cost of the coffee or meal. You must also offer reusable packaging as an option. Rather than waiting until the law says you have to, you can already make the switch to a sustainable alternative. Marcel Keuenhof, expert at the KIDV Institute for Sustainable Packaging lists the benefits.

Reusable mugs for coffee on the go, sustainable beeswax food wraps, and special granola cups: as things are now, they are mainly the choice of so-called 'dark green consumers', Keuenhof’s nickname for environmentally conscious people. That will certainly change from July 2023. That is when sustainable alternatives will become the norm in the hospitality industry, in offices, and at events. The new rules and regulations should encourage consumers to prefer reusable packaging over single-use plastic packaging. Many businesses have decided not to wait for the new legislation to come in effect, but are already capitalising on this new development (in Dutch). This has a number of important advantages, such as:

1. Preparation is key

There are several sustainable alternatives to disposable plastic containers: you can offer reusable containers, plastic-free disposable containers, or encourage customers to bring their own cups and trays. By looking into alternatives to disposable packaging now, you will not have to make rushed decisions later that may turn out to be wrong. “At the moment, you can still ask your customers to provide input or test different options for a while before making a choice," Keuenhof explains. Besides, if you want to build a green image, you have to stay ahead of new legislation.

2. Good for your reputation

survey (in Dutch) conducted by packaging company Smurfit Kappa shows that 61% of consumers surveyed think it is important for companies to have a sustainability strategy. If you want to capitalise on this, it is important to be ahead of legislation, Keuenhof believes. “This will allow you to actually foster a green image. If you make the switch to reusable coffee cups or meal trays now, you show that you are not just making a change because you have to, but because you want to contribute to a more sustainable world. Putting that message out there can really enhance your reputation among consumers.

Customers care about sustainability

Right now, you can choose to get rid of plastic packaging as a way to attract more customers. In the near future, when everyone goes plastic-free, it will be a lot more difficult. Make sure to clearly tell your customers about the green choices you make, either in your actual business, on your website, or on your social media channels. Floris Overgaag, business manager at BLOW Beach House, uses the fact that the beach club encourages customers to bring their own materials for takeaway meals in his marketing efforts. "Three years ago, we decided to phase out disposable plastic packaging to cut costs and help reduce waste. We tell customers about this sustainable move on our menu, in and around our beach club, and on our Instagram account. People are very enthusiastic about this change and are now more likely to choose us or our plastic-free neighbours over competitors who still use disposable plastic."

Marcel van Keuenhof

reusable packaging expert

As part of his job at KIDV, Keuenhof helps organisations and companies make their packaging more sustainable and circular.

  • Bachelor’s degree in Packaging Technology

  • KIDV Institute for Sustainable Packaging

  • The Hague

"I expect other reusable alternatives to become mandatory as well, and talks about the subject are already underway elsewhere in Europe.”

3. Efficient and cheaper through collaboration

Switching to reusable packaging can take some getting used to, but fortunately, you do not have to solve it on your own. By working with other entrepreneurs, you can identify challenges at an early stage. Collecting reusable packaging, for example, might become a logistical challenge, but if you already know what issues you may run into in the future, you can figure out a solution before the new law comes into effect.

Keuenhof has seen first-hand how collaborating with other entrepreneurs can give rise to surprising initiatives and benefits: "The beach clubs in The Hague, including Blow Beach House, are now almost entirely plastic-free. The first plastic-free beach club set up shop there 3 years ago. Their neighbour liked the idea and decided to stop using plastic too. As a result, they both started drawing bigger crowds, simply because they had stopped using disposable plastic. The news quickly spread to the other beach clubs. In the end, the entrepreneurs behind the clubs decided to collaborate and create a plastic-free outdoor area. Now, they all benefit. Each beach club collects reusable cups. Then they are sent to the contracted cleaning company in one go. Instead of all these small, individual contracts, they now have one collective contract, making recycling both effective and cheap. Because they committed to sustainable alternatives relatively early, they were able to really fan the fire for plastic-free hospitality."

4. Keep hold of staff

Making a sustainable choice like switching to reusable packaging can help you keep staff on board. Especially if you employ a lot of young people. In fact, according to a survey from career consulting firm Qompas, between 74% and 78% of students and first-time employees want to see their employer address sustainability. "Young people find it increasingly important that companies practice what they preach," Keuenhof says. “Showing your sustainable ambitions while still using single-use coffee cups is a surefire way to anger young employees. In various projects, I work and speak with students and young employees. They tell me that some employers, in their eyes, are not sufficiently committed to sustainability. Some have even left their employer for precisely that reason. With the labour market as tight as it is, young employees know that they are in a better bargaining position.”