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The market for takeaway food delivery has grown dramatically in recent decades, however an unwanted side effect is the increased waste generation and pollution from single-use disposable food containers. One study has estimated that a staggering 2 billion single-use takeaway containers are used every year in the European Union alone. Meanwhile here in Cambridge, the recent ‘Single Out’ campaign estimated that around 10 tonnes of takeaway containers were disposed of from the University’s buildings every year. Now, a Cambridge student has developed an innovative system for reusable takeaway containers which aims to not only tackle waste generation and pollution, but also provide tangible benefits to staff and students in our Cambridge Colleges.

RE.USE - A reusable takeaway system for Cambridge Colleges

Luisa Deragon has always had a passion for the environment and reducing waste. However, taking part in Cambridge Hub’s Engage for Change programme in 2020 offered Luisa the guidance and training to design, implement and evaluate her own environmental ‘intervention’. The result is RE.USE, a social enterprise created from Luisa’s Engage for Change project, in which she is Co-founder along with her friend and Cambridge Alumni, Andre Gordilho. Through RE.USE, they hope to offer an efficient and sustainable alternative to disposable containers used in takeaways. Already, the pair have been accepted to Cambridge’s entrepreneurship training programme Accelerate Cambridge. They have also caught the attention of several Cambridge Colleges, two of which are about to start a trial of the scheme during the Easter term. Here, Luisa explains how it came about:

“As a student, I’m used to checking out books from the library. So, I thought why couldn’t we do the same thing with reusable takeaway containers? Particularly during the pandemic, I was horrified by the amount of waste we’ve all been producing – and disposable containers used for takeaway meals represent a large portion of that waste. I knew we needed a more sustainable alternative”.

How does it work?

The RE.USE system (Fig. 1) aims to offer exactly that alternative. Instead of using disposable containers, takeaway meals are offered in reusable containers, each with a unique QR code. This gets scanned and logged into the student’s account – just like borrowing a book from the library. Students receive reminder notifications to return any borrowed containers, and as long as that happens by a deadline, there’s no charge to their College bill. Return stations are located strategically across College grounds and are equipped with scanning devices, allowing students to return their borrowed containers at their convenience. Catering staff clean and sanitize containers in the College’s industrial dishwashers, just like they would with dishes and cutlery, making these ready to be reused by other students. The containers are made of polypropylene (PP), a highly durable, heat and leak resistant type of plastic. They can be reused 1000 times (if not more!), meaning they can replace many single-use versions. Once worn out, they can be recycled.

Figure 1 Diagram of ‘RE.USE – Reusable takeaway system’. 1. Student orders takeaway meal; 2. College preps meals and logs in container to student’s account, keeping track of any container in lending; 3. Student receives periodic notifications reminding them to return borrowed container; 4. Student returns borrowed container(s) at return stations; 5. College sanitizes containers in dishwashers; 6. Containers go back into the system or; 7. Containers are sent to be recycled.

Who's signed up already?

The RE.USE scheme means students always have a sustainable option when choosing College takeaway, even if they leave their Tupperware at home. However, there are also clear benefits to Colleges. Ivan Higney, chairman of the University of Cambridge Catering Managers' Committee and Catering Manager at Darwin College, is one of the first to have adopted the scheme. Darwin College already have a strong track record in reducing single-use items, for example cutting down on bottled water by installing water fountains and promoting the use of subsidised refillable bottles, and removing disposable cups from beverage vending machines whilst subsiding the sale of ‘keepcups’ to promote reuse. Participating in the RE.USE scheme was just another step in the College’s efforts to reduce single-use packaging, and ideally eliminate them altogether, according to Ivan. “We’re starting with our current highest-volume items, disposable hot food containers. The RE.USE scheme is a closed-loop system that eliminates the need for these. When it’s up and running, the system will give us useful data to reflect and measure the impact of the scheme. The hope is to roll it out to other single-use packaging such as salad, soup, dessert and cake items.” Ivan is grateful for the support from the RE.USE team in getting the scheme off the ground:

“They have project managed the initiative and taken large amounts of the workload off us in bringing together various contractors for the project.”

Ivan Higney, chairman of the University of Cambridge Catering Managers' Committee and Catering Manager at Darwin College


Darwin and Girton are two of several Colleges getting involved in the scheme, with Jesus College also working on a similar initiative. It is hoped that these Colleges will benefit not just from making a positive environmental difference, but also by achieving administrative and financial efficiencies associated with purchasing, delivery, removal and disposal of single-use items.

Darwin College's reusable containers ready for action!


Girton College roll out their reusable containers

As a recent government report concluded, “a fundamental shift away from all single-use packaging, plastic or otherwise, is now necessary”. Luisa and the RE.USE team hope to be a part of this move to viable alternatives to our throwaway culture, and a step on the journey to a more sustainable society.

If you’re interested and want to hear more about RE.USE visit or reach out to Luisa at


Written by Peter Lumb and Luisa Deragon