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William & Mary issues reusable dining containers

William & Mary’s dining services is launching a new program on campus called “Choose to Reuse,” and the initiative is providing students with reusable carry out containers in the hopes of cutting campus waste.

The program provides reusable containers to students eating in the dining halls and is expected to cut back on the number of disposable containers being used on campus. According to a release on university’s official website, William & Mary students use and throw away 4,000 disposable to-go containers each week.

To participate, a student simply checks out a reusable container from the dining hall cashier, takes their food with them and then returns the dirty container to the dining hall in exchange for a clean one.

The system keeps track of checkouts and returns using student ID cards and numbers. A student can only receive a container once they have swiped in for that meal. The cashier will then swipe the ID card again to record in the system that the student has a container checked out. Finally, the cashier will swipe the student’s card once the container has been returned.

“We consulted with CBORD to create the buttons in our system that allows the check status, check out and check in containers,” says Catherine Donatone, marketing manager for William & Mary Dining Services. “This system allows us to track usage and return rates. With that information we can track our numbers of people who choose the reusable containers versus the single-use and determine our impact.”

The Choose to Reuse containers are free for students to use, but in the event a student loses a container or fails to return it by the end of the semester, the student will be charged $5. Students can have more than one container checked out, but a $5 fee will be assessed for each additional container beyond the first.

According to Donatone, getting the program up and running required a few considerations to be addressed. “W&M Dining Services first procured the reusable containers, created the marketing and outreach plan to create buzz around the program,” she says. “W&M then drew up a Waiver agreement that students were required to sign in order to use the containers, before ultimately staffing the cashiers, dishwashers and other personnel required to market, distribute and wash the containers.”

The program has been running smoothly thus far with only minor growing pains.

“We required all students checking out a container for the first time to sign a waiver. This, combined with the added swipes to check out a container, proved to add a small amount of time to the average wait in line during peak meal periods,” explains Donatone. “This has actually been relatively minimal, however, and students are excited for the opportunity to have a reliable and easy reusable to-go container system.”

The official launch date of the Choose to Reuse program is January 21, 2015, but the university is planning a trial run open to all students until December 17.

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