Entrepreneur

Don't Waste Plastic: This S'pore Startup Lets You Share Reusable Containers From $3/Month

Roxane Uzureau had attended a ZeroWaste and responsible living event in Singapore back in 2018.

It was there that she unwittingly got to know her barePack co-founders: Maximilien Mason, 29; Valerian Fauvel, 35; and Clement Hochart, 33.

While waiting for one of the speakers to arrive onstage, she casually shared a reusable container sharing idea with an attendee who was sitting next to her.

The idea piqued the man’s interest, and he went on to pitch the idea to his other friends. The three of them ended up reaching out to Roxane the following week to discuss the idea further and pursue it as a business venture together.

The Overuse Of Plastic Disposables

Having grown up overseas in European countries where recycling was the norm, Roxane was shocked when she first moved to Singapore.

The 31-year-old observed that plastic disposables were often used, but never recycled.

plastic disposables
Plastic disposables / Image Credit: Association Meetings International

This is concerning because no one actually cares about the packing that we receive our food in, she lamented, adding that all consumers want is “great-tasting food” at the end of the day.

She had strongly believed that she was “doing it right by recycling” until China refused to accept the world’s waste in January 2018.

The waste crisis was an eye-opener for me and made me realise just how big the problem of single-use and waste was, and how recycling was not going to solve it.

There is no such thing as an eco-friendly disposable in the context of sustainability — using resources to create a product that will be used for a fraction of the time it took to make, and cost more to dispose of, makes no sense.

Roxane Uzureau, co-founder and CEO of barePack

Finding An Alternative To Bring Your Own Containers

While BYO (bring your own) is a simple and effective way to reduce disposables, it poses several problems for consumers and restaurants.

Firstly, it’s inconvenient. You need to plan your day ahead and consumers today don’t want the hassle of having extra containers on them “just in case” they happen to want to take out.

They also cannot carry around as many containers as they might need.

Secondly, BYO disrupts the restaurant operations. In the case that the restaurant pre-prepares the meal based in containers, they have to take a little extra time to make a new prep for someone bringing their own container.

If they are worried about hygiene, they may even want to wash the box before using it. This is to also ensure that they are not held liable if said customer falls sick.

Moreover, food handlers are not keen to accept personal items, especially in these COVID-19 times, when people are trying their best to avoid any risk of contamination.

Restaurants also aren’t familiar with the sizes and various shapes of containers that consumers bring in, and some worry that the portions served aren’t standardised and that they could be either losing money or that small portions in large containers give the perception that they are under-serving. 

Roxane Uzureau, co-founder and CEO of barePack
barepack reusable cup and container
Reusable cup and container / Image Credit: barePack

To conquer these issues, Roxane and her co-founders started up a reusable container sharing service in Singapore called barePack.

With barePack, users no longer need to worry about how many containers they might need, or what happens if they forget to bring them out.

“BarePack containers are available just when the (user) needs them, directly at the restaurant,” explained Roxane.

Since their containers are stored and washed by the restaurants, hygiene is also assured.

“On top (of that), (restaurants) can prep the base meal in them to save time and not change their operations. With standardised sizes, restaurants are confident with the portions they serve.”

Over 100 F&B Brands Onboard

Like any other startups, their entrepreneurial journey was fraught with challenges.

As a bootstrapped startup, funding is always a top concern for them.

“(We) follow a very lean spending discipline to make sure we can profitably deliver a highly affordable service whose cost can compete with single-use containers at scale,” said Roxane.

While most customers loved their idea of a reusable container sharing service, there were many initial concerns surrounding hygiene.

The lack of understanding around the notion of cleanliness is a challenge. There is nothing clean about a clear, single-use plastic.

In fact, it has never been washed, has potentially been stored in hot areas and subject to material degradation, handled by many people, wrapped in non-food-grade plastics, and stored in a dusty pantry.

Roxane Uzureau, co-founder and CEO of barePack

Many people assume that single-use containers is safer, so the team has been ramping up their education efforts.

Additionally, barePack containers have a reuse life expectancy of 500 applications.

barepack reusable container
Image Credit: barePack

“If we replaced a restaurant’s 100 containers a day with our solution (at 20g average weight per single-use container) across our 100+ locations, this represents an annual saving of 73,000kg of plastic/packaging waste,” said Roxane.

The other challenge was onboarding restaurants onto their fledgling platform.

Most players are still largely traditional and are not receptive to the sharing economy concept, but there are also many who have a strong policy around sustainability.

Some were also concerned that it would take time and energy to train their staff to adopt this new practice.

Dispelling this “perceived complexity”, Roxane stressed that barePack only takes less than half an hour to set up and explain.

woobbee reusable cup barepack
Reusable cup for Woobbee bubble tea / Image Credit: barePack

Currently, there are over 100 eateries and counting under barePack, including F&B brands like SaladStop!, Da Paolo, Woobbee and Kopifellas.

“We’re really proud to cater to a variety of cultural palates and our focus is on including all the favourite local places,” said Roxane.

How To Use barePack

The barePack app is free for download on iOS and Android devices.

When signing up, users can choose between a monthly (S$5/month) and an annual (S$3/month) plan.

Once they’ve registered as a paying member, they can utilise barePack’s reusable container sharing service at any of the participating restaurants.

barepack app reusable container
Image Credit: barePack

They simply need to scan the QR code at the cashier to choose the container type and quantity needed for their order, then flash the confirmation message in-app to the staff.

Everything else (works) the same: you place the order with the restaurant staff and pay them directly.

The member can (then) return the box to any partner restaurant, not just where they took it from. … There is no hard return by date so as to encourage them to reuse the box or cup (as and) when they need it.

Roxane Uzureau, co-founder and CEO of barePack

She added that there is no penalty fee for members who don’t return the containers as it discourages people from trying their service.

“(Such fees) sound more punishing than rewarding,” she commented.

Reusable Containers For Food Delivery

It’s clear that Singaporeans like the convenience and are not willing to forego delivery, so something must be done to curb the flow of waste.

Moreover, COVID-19 caused a drop in restaurant footfall so they were forced to explore into delivery solutions “to meet people where they now were: at home.”

These was what sparked the collaboration with food delivery firms Deliveroo and foodpanda.

We reached out to foodpanda and they were very excited. I think (reusable container-sharing) is not an area they have the capacity to deploy resources into because it’s another business in itself, and not theirs, so a collaboration was welcome.

Roxane Uzureau, co-founder and CEO of barePack

However, introducing it to food delivery meant that some changes had to be made on the menu.

“You have to remember that we are talking to people who have to get approval from above and at the end of the day, a business looks at business metrics to decide on whether they (should) go ahead with something,” said Roxane.

“Being so young and this having never been done before, simply no one had these metrics.”

One thing was certain though. The Singapore government has been pushing for sustainable initiatives and more restaurants are being criticised for their packaging choices.

barepack x deliveroo

We then had the opportunity to engage with Deliveroo. (Their) approach was different, focusing on (piloting at) key neighbourhoods (first) to get more support to expand.

Again, all these businesses are in favour of the reuse model, but they have KPIs to meet and must justify the time, energy, and marketing resources that they put towards showcasing our reuse solution to decision-makers whom we are not directly in touch with.

Roxane Uzureau, co-founder and CEO of barePack

In all, Roxane feels that they have “come a long way in a relatively short period of time” and are proud to be able to enrich delivery offerings with their reuse model.

So the next time you order on foodpanda and Deliveroo, do remember that you can opt for reusable containers.

barepack reusable container drop off
Image Credit: barePack

Once you’re done with your meal, wash the containers and you can then drop them off anywhere in the barePack network.

A Shift Towards Sustainability

Currently, the founders are looking at different applications for barePack in Singapore.

They are also planning to expand their operations overseas. In fact, they have already successfully launched their first phase in Paris.

“Europe is ahead of us in Asia in terms of readiness to move towards circular solutions,” Roxane reasoned.

Moving forward, she foresees an “unavoidable global movement in favour of reuse”.

She is confident that reuse will soon be synonymous with high quality and responsibility, as opposed to single-use that are cheap and of lesser quality.

barePack is a movement. It’s a way we live: removing all the unnecessary waste from our everyday to live a healthier and more sustainable life.

Roxane Uzureau, co-founder and CEO of barePack

Featured Image Credit: barePack

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