Dining Services uses new purchase system with to-go containers

Students eating at the Ordal Dining Hall were presented with a new, greener option last year for taking their meals to-go in the form of reusable containers. However, when they had to buy 600 more of these containers mid-year, the dining services team discovered that operating on the honor system did not provide enough incentive for students to return the containers.

“They were pretty much all gone,” Dustin Hansen, marketing coordinator for Dining Services said. “We had to devise a new plan of action. That’s why we decided that we would sell the boxes, or sell to be a participant in the program.”

This year, Dining Services purchased 600 more green to-go boxes. A $5 deposit purchases a carabiner that a student can exchange for a to-go box at any dining hall location (including the Viking Grill and Sub Connection). 

The new system uses a $5 deposit to secure a reusable container. Photo by Camryn Hay.

Once the to-go container has been returned, the student will receive another carabiner that they can use the next time they would like a to-go container.

While students do have the option to turn the reusable box back in, Hansen reminds students that they are buying the box for themselves.

“You don’t have to turn it back in,” Hansen said. “If you want to use it at home for whatever you want to use it for, you can do that as well.”

According to Hansen, Dining Services had been wanting to transition to reusable boxes for a while as a means of keeping disposable boxes out of landfills. 

“One of Sodexo’s larger initiatives is to be as sustainable as possible,” Hansen said. “So this is just a step in the right direction that way.”

Professor David O’Hara, director of sustainability, said he appreciates the steps that Sodexo has taken to be more eco-friendly.

“Oftentimes it’s not the great big sweeping movements that we can make because most of the really big ones have already been made, or many of them have been made,” O’Hara said. “It’s in the margins, those little tweakings here and there, […] and every one of those little changes adds up.” 

O’Hara considers students not turning in their boxes last year to be a version of society’s “basic recycling problem.” 

“We know every tin can, every aluminum can that we have, for beer, soda, whatever, is recyclable,” O’Hara said. “But how many of them do we actually recycle?”

O’Hara hopes this program will hold students more accountable, but describes it as a time-tested system. 

While Hansen said Dining Services hasn’t seen as much success as they hoped, he said he’s received positive feedback from students that they are glad Sodexo is taking steps to reduce landfill waste.

Sophomore Caroline Sudbeck said she believes this program is a great idea because it eliminates waste and feels like something small she can do to make an impact.

The reusable box program became even more of an asset during the pandemic, as it provided students who did not feel comfortable eating in the dining hall with a sustainable alternative. 

“We do like people to eat in, as long as they feel comfortable,” Hansen said, “but having that to-go option is so great because it’s very versatile for students to be able to utilize during the school year.”

Hansen said the to-go boxes also make a great option for students who have class over their lunch hour, as they can pick up a meal in a to-go box the day before.

“It’s a pretty great program,” Hansen said. “We’re hoping that more students take advantage of it.” 

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