Quick Chat: Retub rebound, but with a difference

Rose Mary Petrass

Woman holding container
Retub founder Victoria Shannon

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of the post-lockdown renaissance of Melbourne’s famous culinary culture, RETUB is back in full swing. And now founder Veronica Shannon plans to run her business from an off-grid farm on Victoria’s French Island.

The Green List’s Rose Mary Petrass sat down for a chat with Retub founder Veronica Shannon, talking about the reuse and multi-use boom of post-lockdown Australia, how Retub works, and what it’s like living off-grid on an island. 

Thanks for chatting with me today. Can you give us a quick elevator pitch of your business?

So, Retub is a reusable takeaway food container that is supported by a container exchange program called Reswap.

And can you tell us about Reswap?

Reswap is a container exchange program. We’ve got hundreds – if not thousands – of cafes around Australia that have agreed to either accept your Retub, or swap your Retub for one that they’ve got there or, they will swap just the inner part of your Retub. 

On our website map, you can see the cafes. The idea is that they’re trying to make reuse easy for consumers and cafes alike. 

We’re also giving cafes control over the hygiene of a reusable product by having the container exchange program, which makes it really quick and easy so they know that everything’s clean. Consumers can come in with something that they might have used at breakfast time and want to use again at lunchtime, without needing to do the cleaning themselves.

That’s a great idea. And how many cafes do you work with?

Pre-shutdowns, I believe it was in the thousands. Post-shutdowns, it has decreased because some of the cafes unfortunately couldn’t stay open. Now that we’ve come out of hibernation, we’re in the throes of finding out what cafes are still able to offer what, and if they’ve changed their offering at all. 

How was your business impacted by COVID?

In the lockdown, reusable cafe products were avoided for a while. So, we made a call early-on that we would go into hibernation until the lockdown ended. 

Little did we know that Melbourne would be in the longest lockdown of the world. A lot of cafes in Melbourne shut down. These are family businesses, generally with people who are just super passionate about hospitality. So it’s kind of heartbreaking to say that they haven’t made it or they’re struggling. 

We’ve only just recently come out of hibernation, and the environment has changed. But there is definite passion again for reusables, and sustainability is definitely a priority for people again. 

How is your business doing now that the lockdowns are over?

We’ve only just come out of hibernation in the last not even months, and so far it seems that we’re back on track in terms of sustainability and getting usage. That said, we are making some changes in our business. And we’re going to be announcing those very soon… so stay tuned. 

What can you tell me about that?

Next year we’re going to be bringing out an alternative offer that will be highly accessible for all people and all budgets. We have a lot of plans in store that we’re going to announce in the new year. 

And what are your plans for after this interview?

I’m on the farm, so I’m actually going around and making sure the property is fire safe, and checking on our water supply.

Can you tell me a bit more about that? 

I’ve recently moved to a completely off grid property on an island outside of Melbourne. We want to show people how we’re living on this completely off grid property. French Island is about 70 per cent nature reserve, so we’re really immersed in nature. It is incredible.

Wow, that is a dream. I have to say, I’m quite jealous. 

For anyone into sustainability, it’s magical. We’re surrounded by koalas. They literally just walk in our front yard – like a metre away from the front door. It’s an absolutely crazy, amazing thing to be doing, but we just love it. 

And the reality is, a lot of what we’re doing these days can actually be done online. But the idea is to bring the business operations here and create something that can get some young people involved, because so many of the islanders have had to go to the mainland, traditionally, for work, because there’s nothing here. It’s a nature reserve. 

And can you also tell me a bit about the sustainability consulting aspect of the business?

Right at the start of COVID we were working with councils to help them reach out to businesses – so cafes and other sorts of businesses – to advise them on what sorts of sustainable products were available to them, and help them identify ways that they can start reducing waste in super practical ways. We also did some IT set-ups for sustainability entities. Sustainable Sally was one – we helped set up her website. Anything that’s sustainability related.

So what does a typical day look like for you?

With the farm, our typical days are all very much focused on making sure that we’ve got energy. We’re conscious of what we will do based on our solar batteries telling us. So if it’s a great sunny day, you’ll see us doing all the vacuuming and washing. Everything happens on those sunny days –  we program our lives around making sure we use the energy when it’s there. And we’re constantly caring for this beautiful land. 

That sounds like an idyllic lifestyle.

I’m pretty amazed by this place – I didn’t know it existed. I’ve lived in Melbourne my whole life and never knew that there was this place that’s only 60 kilometres from the city. But you can’t get here without a ferry – or a helicopter! It’s a little bit of a magical, nature-lovers paradise.

  • Find out about Retub and their range of products here
  • Locate participating Reswap cafes here
  • Enquire about Retub’s sustainability consulting services here
  • Calculate your carbon footprint with Retub’s Carbon Footprint Calculator here