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Reusable Solution to COVID-19 Disposable Container Problem

Western's reusable solution to disposable containers

As the COVID-19 pandemic changed protocol for students in the classroom at Western Colorado University, it also drastically changed how students are able to dine on campus.

Rare Air Café and Mad Jack’s, both run by Sodexo, had to reinvent how they would serve students with meal plans.

One of the ways Sodexo is helping combat COVID-19 is by providing every student with a meal plan a reusable container they are able to take to the cafeteria, fill up with their favorite foods and eat in their room or anywhere else on campus.

Finding Solutions

Sodexo was able to provide these containers through a partnership with Pepsi. Jon Coady, the General Manager of Sodexo Campus Services on Western’s campus, provided some insight on how this partnership came to be.

“The Sustainability Action Committee (SAC) had this idea to support the ‘Eat, Wash, Reuse’ program with funding from Pepsi through the Western contract,” Coady said. “Pepsi has a Campus Sustainability Commitment to all universities’ accounts and provides Western with $3,000 annually to support campus-wide sustainability initiatives.”

Director of the University Center, Svea Whiting along with the SAC recommended this due to the immense increase in single-use disposables caused by COVID-19-related seating capacity restrictions in the dining environment.

“They felt that we could have a much higher impact by providing the green containers to students for free as opposed to allowing them to opt in by asking them to purchase out-of-pocket,” she said.

The cost of the containers was $3,200; Pepsi bought 750 containers for $2,200 and Sodexo paid $1,000 for another 350 containers.

Reducing Waste

Students are asked to rinse out the containers and bring them back to the cafeteria once they are done eating so they can be thoroughly washed by a Sodexo staff member. They can then opt to receive a sanitized replacement for their meal or a green carabiner to carry with them and trade in for a clean container later. While Western prides itself on its zero-waste initiative, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench in the efforts.

“In opening for fall semester at Western, it was absolutely necessary to implement a to-go option in order to accommodate customer flow with our decreased seating capacity,” Coady said. “With persistence and strict adherence to our COVID-19 food service operational plans, we received approval from Gunnison Country Health and Human Services in late September and re-implemented our ‘EAT, WASH, REPEAT’ program on October 1. This immediately resulted in a massive reduction in our excess paper waste.”

Working Together to Stop the Spread

While COVID-19 has changed operations on Western’s campus, the cooperation by faculty, staff and students has helped keep the university in operation.

“I am impressed with Western students’ level of compliance with all COVID-19-related dining protocol,” Coady said. “Their good behavior has resulted in our success of lifting some of the restrictive measures put in place initially.”

To learn more about Western’s response to the Coronavirus, see our COVID-19 Updates and Resources.


Author Credit: Caitlin Gleason

Photo Credit: Katie Lyons