German supermarket chain REWE will offer customers in selected stores a free returnable system for its in-store salad bar - the first in Germany, the retailer claims, to address the issue of packaging waste in the food-to-go sector.  

The concept by Cologne-based start-up VYTAL has been adapted to the special requirements in supermarkets and will initially be trialled at five locations in Cologne.

The central element of the VYTAL reusable system is a plastic tray that can be closed with a corresponding lid to prevent leakage. The tray has a volume of 1,250 ml, is dishwasher safe and suitable for us in the microwave. Customers can obtain the tray from a dispensing station at the supermarket using a barcode through the VYTAL app or on an offline ticket. Customers can scan in their individual QR code at the dispensing station, and can then remove the tray from the dispenser and fill it as usual at the salad bar. At the checkout, the weight of the tray is automatically deducted when weighing the contents.

Customers then have two weeks to return the trays free of charge. A separate return station is available for returning the trays at REWE stores. When returned within 24 hours, the tray does not need to be rinsed, but only tightly closed and  completely emptied. If the tray is rented for a longer period of time, the customer is asked to rinse it with cold water. The return is carried out in just a few steps: the customer scans the QR code on the lid of the tray, opens the sliding door of the return station, inserts the tray and closes the sliding door again. The unit checks whether the tray has been returned empty and with the lid. If this is the case, the tray is booked out of the customer account and customers receive a return confirmation on their mobile phone.

"The goal of avoiding and reducing packaging waste has high priority in our packaging strategy. At the same time, more and more customers want ready-to-eat meals and snacks to go, which leads to an increased demand on packaging. This makes it all the more important for us to focus on real system changes in order to consistently and systematically avoid packaging waste despite changing consumer habits. We are very pleased to be testing a smart reusable alternative with VYTAL now, which enable us to solve this challenge to a certain extent", says Pia Schnück, who is responsible for this sustainability project in REWE's merchandise division.