Hannah Wundsam and Cornelia Sochor were in a master’s program at the University of Economics, Vienna (Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien) when they noticed that a lot of take-away packing was being thoughtlessly thrown away on campus. They decided to change that with RePhil, a recycling system for take-away packaging.
In their research, the students discovered that a new EU guideline would dramatically reduce the amount of one-way packaging allowed by 2021. Companies would be reliant on innovation to find a new solution. This encouraged them to develop an eco-friendly alternative: RePhil, a recycling system for reusable take-away packaging.
After finishing their master’s degrees, they decided to pursue the project and launched the first pilot in the canteen of the Austrian communications company A1.
This pilot showed that there is a need for reusable take-away packaging. The recycling system works with a deposit, for which a digital model system is currently under development. RePhil is still in the pre-founding phase and continues working on development and the pilot phase. The launch is planned for June 2020.
We interviewed Hannah Wundsam, RePhil Head of Communications:
What is your motivation? What problem are you solving?
In Austria, 28,000 tons of take-away packaging are thrown away every year. You could cover the area of the city of Vienna (414.6 square km) with it. During the production of this packaging large amounts of CO2 emissions are produced and afterwards they often end up in nature and water and pollute the environment. This is what we want to avoid by introducing a closed recycling system.
What material is your recyclable take-away packaging made of?
We currently work with polypropylene and Pure Plastic Technology (PPT), a plastic. We are also researching other materials from renewable resources. But polypropylene is currently the most sustainable option. It can be recycled and – depending on the object – reused 300 to 500 times. For example, the life cycle of a bowl saves 48 kilograms of CO2 emissions – compared to disposable containers.
Alternative materials such as glass and metal are out of the question because they are extremely energy-intensive to produce. While you only have to reuse a polypropylene bowl seven times to be CO2 neutral with a disposable container, you would have to reuse a metal bowl thirty times and a glass bowl a hundred times. In addition, polypropylene is unbreakable and microwaveable compared to glass and metal.
What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome with RePhil so far?
There are always ups and downs when you build something new, but it is also exciting. You have to keep at it and show staying power. One thing that is not an obstacle, but a challenge is to find a technical co-founder. We’ve been looking for a month. This is something that many start-ups experience that have no technical background. There are not many people on the market.
What were the most best moments so far?
In June 2019, we won the Entrepreneurship Avenue competition, which is run by the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration and is open to students of all universities.
Later, it made us proud to be able to test the recycling system for reusable take-away packaging for the first time at A1 and to see that it works as we imagine it does.
It was also nice to get Alexander, our third co-founder, on the team.
What can we expect from you in a year?
In the first half of the year we will validate our hypotheses, prepare the products for launch and conduct further pilots. In the second half of the year, we will then offer our recycling system for reusable take-away packaging for the first time throughout Austria in company canteens as well as at schools, universities, hospitals, etc. In the first step we will concentrate on closed cycles, in the long term we aim for an open cycle system. However, this will only work if we have a nationwide presence at least regionally, as we can then minimize the additional logistical effort.
Where would you like to be with RePhil in five years?
By then, we want to have introduced the recycling system for recyclable take-away packaging throughout Austria in particular – and be the European market leader.
What makes your innovation better than existing things?
We offer companies the opportunity to introduce a recycling system for take-away packaging and can quantify how much waste and CO2 emissions they save as a result. With an integrated benefit system, we provide additional incentives to use the recycling system and change behaviour in the long term.
Thank you for the interview.