Friday, September 29, 2023

Grab-and-Go Green: Students create reusable container program for dining halls

November 22, 2022
<p>Food is still being served in a plastic disposable at 1855 Place on Sept. 8, 2022. </p>

Food is still being served in a plastic disposable at 1855 Place on Sept. 8, 2022.

Photo by Zari Dixson | The State News

This fall, grab-and-go dining halls in Holden and Holmes Halls began offering reusable containers. Traditionally, to-go options are exclusively packaged in single-use plastic.

The program was created and designed by Michigan State University students. Social relations and policy junior Sydnie Burnstein, who helped create the program, said the idea was a simple solution to a problem they saw.

“A group of us in the Student Sustainable Leadership Committee got together last year, and we came up with this program,” Burnstein said. “We met with a bunch of container vendors, figured out the app and just how we're going to conduct the program.”

To access the sustainable containers, students order their food as they normally would on the MSU Transact app. Then, using the separate Fill it Forward app, students can link a reusable container to their order. When they pick up the food or return the container, they must scan a barcode on the container into the Fill It Forward app.

Burnstein said this complex two-app system is one of the areas she hopes to improve as the program grows. She said that when they first designed the system last year, they wanted all the steps to be in the MSU app, but that staffing shortages in the IT office stopped them from integrating the process.

“Ideally, we'll eliminate Fill it Forward eventually and create our own system, that's coming in due time,” Burnstein said.

So far, they’ve had over 1,000 uses, with about 90 students regularly using the program.

Burnstein said that though students took the lead on the project, they were helped along the way by MSU’s department of Student Life and Engagement, or SLE – the entity that oversees MSU’s dining halls.

“The group of students worked with SLE’s Sustainability Officer Carla Lansiti to conduct research, analyze reusable containers, present findings and implement the program,” SLE spokesperson Cheryl Berry wrote in an email. “Having their support has been an incredible benefit to launching the program”

Mechanical engineering freshman Avi Laet, a frequent user of the grab-and-go options, said that he liked the sustainability of the initiative, but carrying the container around and returning it would be too much of a burden for him to partake.

“The grab-and-go is great for between classes or going back to your room or something, I just think having the container would be a hassle,” Laet said.

Burnstein said she hopes MSU will soon see a culture where students take responsibility for their carbon footprints.

“I'm a proponent of individual sustainability,” Burnstein said.

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