When students arrived on the Texas State University campus at the start of this school year, they had a new option in the dining facilities. Instead of eating in the dining hall or filling up a paper to-go box, students can opt into a reusable to-go container program.
The new containers are now visible all over campus.
“I love seeing students carrying the green box around. It makes me happy,” says Whitney Villarreal, the university’s director of marketing and guest experience. The containers have “a really great message: we’re helping to reduce the carbon footprint on the Texas State campus.”
Prior to the current program, students were able to take to-go meals out of the two campus dining halls, but they did so using biodegradable clamshells. The university now uses no disposable to-go containers in the university dining halls.
By February of this year, the dining program had two thousand of the boxes in circulation and an order in for another thousand. These numbers far exceed their original estimates.
Villarreal attributes the program’s success to ease of use. Students pay a one-time $6.00 fee using dining dollars, cash or card to opt into the program. At meal times, students pick up containers at the door, fill them up, and take them wherever they’d like to eat. Then they bring rinsed, empty containers back to either dining hall or drop them in a dedicated machine located at the campus food court. (The machine issues a token that can be redeemed for another container in the dining halls) Once returned, the dining staff cleans and sanitizes the to-go boxes and recirculates them.
Material on the website for the manufacturer of the containers, OZZI, states that the O2GO containers are BPA-free and composed of 20-30% recycled materials. They’re labeled as #5 plastic. According to Tom Wright, co-founder and CEO, the company just launched a program allowing program participants to return containers at the end of the lifecycle to be ground down and recycled.
Asked how they chose the OZZI system, Villarreal said that Chartwells, which manages the dining program, had seen the system work at other universities.
The university promotes the container program through a branding campaign on the Texas State Dining website, print posters and social media. Students have been quick to catch on.
Combined, the campus dining halls at Texas State serve between 3,000 and 4,000 meals per day; about 10 percent of those are to-go meals. In general, students who fill a to-go container leave the dining hall to eat, though some students eat one meal in the dining hall then fill a to-go container with a second meal for later.
The dining program estimates that, just since the start of this academic year, they’ve kept 45,000 single-use containers out of the landfills.
The effort fits with other sustainability efforts on campus and in the dining program. They’ve abandoned plastic straws and have made other choices to decrease the amount of plastic waste. For instance, campus dining purchases oil in a 30-gallon recyclable tank, cutting down on their use of small plastic bottles.
The dining program partners with Texas State’s student-run composting program, Bobcat Blend, which diverts food waste from dining facilities and mixes it with invasive aquatic plants to create compost for campus gardens and to sell to members of the local community.
They also partner with HowGood, a food research company that measures the sustainability of the dining program’s recipes. Once measured, they assign each dish a ranking based on climate impact. The dining team then labels dishes with “Best,” “Great” and “Good” rankings to help students make informed meal choices.
This fall, the dining program donated grow towers to Bobcat Farm, which is run by the Department of Agricultural Sciences. The Ag program plans to use the towers for research and education and the dining program will purchase the produce they grow and serve it in their dining halls.
Overall, Villarreal says the university is pleased with how strong the reusable container program is and for what it means for their ongoing sustainability efforts on campus.
“We partnered with [the Office of Sustainability] to bring this OZZI program onto campus as a step toward reducing our carbon footprint, contributing to our overall sustainability efforts for Texas State,” she says. “It’s important to us to keep trying to bring more sustainable aspects to our dining facilities.”