Reusable Containers in Dining Halls

Executive Summary:

The University of Washington prides itself on sustainability. The UW Farm, various rain gardens, and the mail bikes are all strong examples of how the UW promotes a culture of sustainability. The next step is to solve the problem of waste in our dining halls. The 2018 Waste Characterization Study found that 50% of the garbage in Housing & Food Services (HFS) housing contains compostable material. This is a significant issue that costs both the environment and the university. Reducing the amount of compostable containers that our dining halls use will shrink our contribution to landfills and cut the cost of removing trash from the university. The best alternative to disposable containers is a reusable container program. Through an outside company called OZZI, we, as students associated with SEED, a student organization dedicated to educating and advocating for sustainability, plan to introduce a reusable containers program at Center Table in Madrona Hall. This system will work by allowing students to purchase a reusable container, fill it with the food of their choice, return the container to one of two machines, and receive a token. This token would then be presented to dining staff in return for a clean reusable container with their food during their next to go purchase. The machines will collect the containers and HFS Dining staff will then be able to clean them. We have looked into other options, including building an in-house system, but this method is the simplest to implement and maintain. By funding a pilot program for reusable containers in one of the dining halls on campus, you will continue to promote a sustainable culture in our residence halls, promote sustainable habit formation and directly reduce single use, disposable waste.

Student Involvement:

This student driven project would primarily impact UW students living in the residential communities. It would require their involvement in actively using the program by receiving a container, returning it, and replacing it with a new, clean one. In a recent survey of 576 current residents, 52.4% of residents said they would be very likely to participate in a reusable containers program and 29.7% said they were likely to participate. Additionally, 90% of respondents said sustainability was important to them. Given these responses, SEED feels confident that demand for the program exists and that it would be used by residents.

Implementing a program like this also reflects UW and HFS’s priority of implementing more sustainable practices. This program would raise students’ awareness of ways to reduce waste and how to make more sustainable choices in their own lives.

Student volunteers will be central to informing students of the program and teaching them how to use it. These volunteers can primarily be recruited from SEED membership. SEED currently has over 30 members who are dedicated to the implementation of this program. Other volunteers from Community Councils within the residential communities could also be recruited as needed.

Education & Outreach:

We plan to spread the word about the new reusable container project through several methods. First, we will utilize posters that advertise the new container system and post them throughout the residence halls, dining hall, and other common student spaces. Second, we plan to set up tables near the new reusable container machines with educators in order to educate students on the new system face-to-face. Third, we will hold an event in Center Table, where the machines will be placed, to educate students and ignite excitement about the new program. Also, the pilot program itself is being used to raise awareness and experience about the program before an expanded program is put into place across campus.

This program heavily depends on student involvement to be successful. Students can easily start participating in the program by paying a small fee for a container either upfront or included in tuition, with each student paying between $2 and $5. Then, the students will bring back the containers to the dining halls in return them to the collection machines in exchange for a token they can use to receive a new, clean one to receive their meals in. The dining staff will take the used containers and clean them along with the other dishes and utensils used in the dining halls. In order to support this project, it is important that students are responsible with the containers. If students are able to bring back containers regularly and keep them in good condition, they will be supporting the project by helping it flow more smoothly and avoid large problems for the school to deal with, such as running out of containers or having to buy new ones. Additionally, Students Expressing Environmental Dedication (SEED) intends to keep its members involved in the project during its implementation through continued education efforts and tracking program metrics.

Environmental Impact:
  • Food
  • Waste
Project Longevity:

The project teams that will support the implementation, management, and maintenance of this project include:

  • SEED: This team will focus on raising awareness of the program, encouraging student engagement, and soliciting feedback on the program. It will also work with other teams to ensure administrative tasks, such as ordering the machines and having them installed, are completed in a timely manner. SEED will experience a transition in leadership this Spring, and the incoming Executive Director, Jenna Truong, has expressed her commitment to completing and prioritizing this work with her new Executive Board.
  • HFS Dining: This team will support the project by working with HFS Facilities to install machines, train staff on their use and how to distribute containers, complete any needed maintenance on the machines and solicit feedback from staff on the program.
  • HFS Facilities: This team will help with the installation of OZZI machines in dining locations, and ensure their placement complies with HFS policies.
  • RCSA: This team will assist SEED in collecting student feedback on the program. RCSA will experience a transition in leadership this Spring, and the incoming President, Kennedy Cameron, has expressed her commitment to supporting this work with her new Executive Board.

Should this project be funded, the most central first step to implementing the program would be ordering the OZZI machines, containers, and supporting materials. This order would be placed immediately after funding is received, and supporting work, such as raising awareness of the program, would also begin immediately.

Environmental Problem:

The University of Washington sends tons of compostable material to the industrial composting facility and to the landfill each year. The 2018 Waste Characterization Study found that 50% of the garbage in HFS facilities contains compostable material. The large portion of that waste is generated from the food industry on campus and the to-go containers that are used. This food waste is taking up space in landfills, instead of being turned into usable compost. We recognize that this issue extends beyond our campus and see this program as an opportunity to raise awareness and incentivise sustainable habit formation that our students can take across this campus and beyond.

Our project would begin to reduce the number of single use compostable containers that are used and ultimately sent to the composting facility and the landfill. This initial project would serve as a proof of concept for a reusable container program on our campus. We have high expectations for a program of this type as institutions, such as Oregon State, have implemented a reusable container program on their campus and seen significant waste reduction; 60 tons of trash diverted from the landfill every year in the case of Oregon State.

Explain how the impacts will be measured:

The impacts of this project can be measured using a handful of metrics. First, we can measure the number of single use reusable containers that are not used. Second, we can track the number of times containers are used and by how many unique students. Third, we can observe the loss rate of containers due to loss, theft and misuse. Finally, we can facilitate feedback from students, dining staff, facilities staff and maintenance personnel which would allow us to gauge satisfaction with the program and determine what improvements are needed to better operate this program.

Total amount requested from the CSF: $40,000
This funding request is a: Grant
If this is a loan, what is the estimated payback period?:


All expenses for project
ItemCost per ItemQuantityTotal Cost
1 OZZI machine, 2 O2GO carts, 1,000 tokens and holders, 5 cases of OZZI liner bags, 3000 reusable O2GO cutlery, 1,000 O2GO containers (not including shipping) - requesting funding from CSF for these products$19,7082$39,416
MAXIMUM additional costs (utilities, unforeseen expenses, etc.) - NOT requesting CSF funding for this itemN/AN/A$15,000

Non-CSF Sources:

Potential funding sources
HFS Dining BudgetPotential (not guaranteed) source of funds
Project Completion Total: $55,000


Timeline for project
TaskTimeframeEstimated Completion Date
SEED will produce marketing to share with current residents returning to live with HFS in Autumn 2019 outlining the program. This marketing will include the basics of how the system will function, and incentives for their participation.1 monthJune 2019
SEED will facilitate the ordering of the OZZI machines, containers, and supporting materials in collaboration with HFS Dining.1 monthJune 2019
OZZI machines and containers will be placed in dining locations prior to move-in of academic year students.1 or 2 weeksEarly September 2019
Distribute physical marketing, including posters and door hangers, to explain the program to residents.1 weekSeptember 2019
Tabling at dining locations to give tutorials of how to operate the machine, explain the goals of the program, and garner student feedback.2 weeksOctober 2019
Visiting student organizations, including residential community Hall Councils the Residential Community Student Association (RCSA) and RA staffs, to explain the program to community leaders.1 weekOctober 2019
Conclusion of the pilot program at the end of Autumn Quarter 2019: SEED will solicit student feedback on their experience with the program and ideas for areas of improvement. SEED will also partner with HFS Dining to solicit feedback from dining employees and maintenance staff to better understand the implementation of the program, and potential areas of improvement. We will compile this qualitative feedback with quantitative data on usage from the machines to analyze the program’s impact. This analysis will include number of unique users, how usage varies between dining locations, trends over time in usage, and an approximation of the quantity of waste diverted by the program.2 weeksDecember 2019
SEED will present the findings of its analysis of the pilot program to HFS’s Sustainability Committee, RCSA, and senior leadership in HFS’s dining department. Based on its analysis, it will make recommendations for what changes to the program should be made to make it more effective and sustainable, and a proposed timeline for implementing a permanent program.1 or 2 weeksJanuary 2019

Project Approval Forms: