Chicago-based reusable packaging platform REUSO reimagining dining experience

22M lbs. of single-use plastic entered the Great Lakes in 2020

ByRob Elgas and Blanca Rios WLS logo
Tuesday, April 18, 2023
Chicago company wants you to ditch single-use plastic
Chicago-based REUSO provides reusable packaging for food that is checked out and returned like library books and can be used 1,000 times.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Our throw-away culture has us drowning in waste. In 2020 alone, over 22 million pounds of single-use plastic entered the Great Lakes.

That's why a Chicago company is reimagining the way people eat out.

REUSO, as the start-up is aptly called, is a reusable packaging platform.

"We empower food and beverage operators to transition away from single use to reuse through our software," said Eva Bugg, CEO and co-founder of REUSO.

According to Bugg, there's been a 300% increase in single-use plastics since the pandemic.

"That's a lot more plastics in our water ways, and in our landfills," Bugg said.

REUSO's containers are made of number five polypropylene plastic. That kind of plastic can be washed and reused more than 1,000 times.

What also makes REUSO unique is its innovative tracking software. Co-founder Neil Misak said it works similarly to the library system.

"We've done years of experimentation; no one wants to download an app just to check out a coffee cup," said Misak. "We've designed a very elegant user experience."

The process involves scanning a QR code to initiate a text message. The user receives a unique PIN and the the restaurant or operator enters it in the system. That allows the customer to check out the container. They then return it to an outdoor REUSO bin.

"There's a $1 service fee for each order. That helps us offset the technology and washing cost, and as long as you return your reusables within 14 days there is no additional cost," said Misak.

Right now their client Blue Food Company in the city's Avondale neighborhood is currently using REUSO's plastic containers with dine-in customers. Blue Food Company co-owner Kiki Kalabogias said they plan to transition to REUSO for both dine-in an take-out by July.

"We started using REUSO because we opened just six weeks before COVID and we were having a lot of supply issues," said Kalabogias.

She said the switch to reusable products help her small business save money. And they believe what's good for business is also good for the customer experience.

"Especially the Avondale community, they're very excited," said Kalabogias.

"We found that customers feel good when they can make a simple decision that has a large positive impact," said Bugg.

REUSO's goal is to expand to large and controlled venues like stadiums where the volume of waste is exponentially higher. REUSO said they're currently in talks with the sustainability team at the Chicago Cubs.