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Dining Center Trials Reusable Takeout Containers

Is Haverford ready to switch to sustainable take-out containers? Have your recently seen people with those huge, green, plastic to-go boxes and wondered what that’s all about?

Recently, Haverford College switched composting companies. The new company does not accept paper compost, which forced students to start brainstorming other eco-friendly alternatives.

“As members of the CER [Committee for Environmental Responsibility] waste group, we are always looking for ways to reduce waste on campus, and the change in our composting company meant that over 300 take-out boxes per day were going to the landfill,” wrote Mali Axinn ‘21 and Griffin Kaulbach ‘21.

The CER waste group did intensive research on the use of reusable containers at other schools and universities, and got in touch with Haverford’s new General Manager of Dining Services, Tom Mitchell. The collective passion and aim for higher sustainability from the Dining Center, ETHOS (Haverford’s student club dedicated to food justice), and CER resulted in reaching a consensus regarding this reusable take-out boxes pilot program. These new, fluorescent green to-go containers are made by a company called OZZI. According to the OZZI’s website, OZZI’s mission is to “eliminate traditional disposable take-out containers for all segments of the food and service industry by utilizing enhanced technology.” Among national food service management companies, many colleges and universities have partnered with OZZI. “OZZI has now averted estimated 5 million disposable containers to date, making it the leading sustainability partner for environmentally responsible institutions”, the website claims.

Illustration by Sarah Jesup

“There are currently 75 students participating in this pilot program to test the practicality of OZZI takeout boxes at Haverford”, said Axinn. While a large number were part of the CER and ETHOS committees, a significant number of students enrolled in the program through a google survey sent out to all students via email by Tom Mitchell.

Haverford’s expenditure on the one-time use to-go boxes is significantly more than the potential investment in OZZI take-out containers.“Not only would switching over to the OZZI take-out boxes program be a more sustainable choice, it would also be more economical.” said Mitchell. “These to-go boxes cost $4.75 each, and are usable for about 400-600 washes before they start wearing out.”

However, there are some challenges with the implementation of this program, particularly regarding the washing of these boxes because of their shape. Tom Mitchell explained how the DC west-wing is used to washing these boxes, but how it becomes challenging due to the ridges. “The ridges make it a lot harder for the boxes to be washed, unlike flat ceramic plates.” said Mitchell.  

The implementation of this new take-out system is also aiming at convenience, with a token system to exchange used boxes for new, clean ones. Every time participants come to the Dining Center to get a to-go meal, they exchange the used box for a token, which then can be brought back to get a clean box the next time they get take-out. “Seeing how this program goes, we might situate an OZZI machine at Whitehead Campus Center too, making it easier for those south of campus to deposit their to-go boxes”, said Tom Mitchell.

According to Rebecca Chen ‘22 who’s on the CER and participating in the pilot program, “Honestly the system is not that different from regular take-out. I’d say the only issue in this pilot program is that you kind of have to plan for when you want take-out and you can’t get it spontaneously unless you carry around the take-out box all the time.” Chen also notes that future iterations of the program would make taking a reusable take-out box similar to how students receive paper ones now. “When we implement the full plan, inconvenience would be minimized as hopefully you should be able to swipe for a take-out box instead of carrying one around all the time”, said Chen.

Although right now this pilot program is a small scale venture with the Dining Center, ETHOS, and CER in collaboration, it is positive to take-off soon. Not only does this program help Haverford become remarkably more environmentally responsible, it significantly reduces costs, and has negligible changes in convenience.

“Our hope for the future is to eliminate all single-use take-out containers and implement a token-based exchange system with the OZZI reusable containers,” said Axinn and Kaulbach on behalf of both the CER and ETHOS.

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