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Going green, saving green

Campus cards power reusable container systems in campus dining

With funding again from the university’s SGA in 2016, Hess says there has been no outlay departmentally in purchasing the containers. Additionally, the start of the 2016 academic year marked the start of campus card integration for Virginia Tech’s OZZI machines.

Card integration at Virginia Tech was inevitable, and the system’s use of metal tokens predictably posed a problem. “In our second year with OZZI the most prevalent feedback – by a large margin – was lost tokens,” Hess says. “We have a system now that uses our Hokie Passport at both the time of checkout at the point of sale and at check in at the OZZI kiosk.”

We saw a huge shift in student to-go culture when we combined OZZI with a surcharge on single use containers. We reduced the number of disposable containers by more than 700,000 in one academic year – a drop of nearly 50% from the year before.

Hokie Passport integration took about six months working with OZZI personnel, an independent contract programmer and the Hokie Passport office, explains Hess. “We are now able to track where the containers are and who has them,” he adds. “The student receives an email for each of these transactions and knows exactly where they stand in outstanding containers.”

Card integration also opened the door for new promotional offers to incentivize use of the reusable containers. “To begin 2016, we instituted three free virtual tokens on every student’s Hokie Passport account following our transition to card swipes from the old tokens,” explains Hess. “The SGA provided 6,000 containers again this year, and we will be charging $3.00 for any lost container as of the last day of class in fall and spring.”

Spreading the word

As with any other student-facing campus initiative, marketing is a key facet to achieving success and student buy in. This has been realized at Virginia Tech through a series of marketing efforts, including a dedicated #VTReusable Twitter hashtag.

“Marketing the program is key to its success in many ways. First, you have to market the program to a new group of students and customers every year, as well as retrain those returning students,” says Hess. “Second, if you don’t keep the program in forefront of both customer and employee minds, they can slip into bad habits. To help combat this, we have had several other successful marketing campaigns about reducing the use of compostable containers.”

In year two, student buy-in was more directly addressed, and with a more active user base new trends began to emerge. “We saw a huge shift in student to-go culture when we combined the reusable OZZI program with a surcharge on compostable containers of $0.10 per container,” Hess says. “We reduced the number of disposable 9”x9” containers used by over 700,000 in one academic year – a drop of nearly 50% from 1.3 million the year before.”

Hess is seeing similar numbers in the first half of the fall 2016 semester, and the results from a waste standpoint, are impressive. “The system has removed the equivalent of three 48-foot shipping crates worth of trash from of our waste stream,” he says.

Reusable takeout containers make sense when you think about it. Who wouldn’t want to cut back on dining hall waste, hauling costs and eliminate expenses associated with paper, compostable and Styrofoam containers? And with OZZI now on campus at some 80 universities spanning both coasts, it seems the idea is catching on fast.

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