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Week of November 19, 2012

U- M students launch reusable takeout container program at University Club

Go Blue Box, a student-initiated reusable takeout container program, began its pilot phase at the University Club restaurant in the Michigan Union Nov. 5.

The program aims to help the university reach its waste-reduction goals by offering customers a reusable alternative to the disposable containers that are used only once before they are thrown away.

“We are extremely excited to see this project come to fruition,” says co-founder Phel Meyer. “The program has the potential not only to reduce waste but also raise awareness about the waste issue among faculty, staff, students and the community at large.”

Like most dining facilities, the University Club has until now offered only plastic foam, plastic and, more recently, compostable takeout containers. Compostable containers are as much as five times more expensive than foam containers and often still end up in the waste stream because of inadequate composting infrastructure.

The idea behind the reusable container program is relatively simple and has been successfully implemented at other colleges and universities around the country.

Takeout customers pay a $5 deposit to get a clean container, fill it with food from the buffet, and check out as usual. Instead of throwing away the container when they are done eating, however, customers keep it until the next time they return to the University Club, at which point they can exchange it for another clean container or have their deposit refunded.

Due to health code requirements, the program only can accept the official Go Blue Box, available in a single-meal size or a 12-ounce soup size.

A lifecycle-impact comparison to polystyrene containers revealed that it only takes about 32 uses before the reusable containers start resulting in environmental advantages. According to the container manufacturer, the containers last for approximately 360 uses. The plastic containers are dishwasher-safe, microwave-safe, and are recyclable when they reach the end of their useful life.

“We are very excited that the University Club has been selected to be involved with this pilot program,” says Michelle Dedo, University Club manager. “I think a lot of customers will get involved with this. We’ve been receiving inquiries since the containers were on display at Earthfest.”

Go Blue Box is one of several new student initiatives funded by grants from the Planet Blue Student Innovation Fund (PBSIF), a program developed by students and supported by President Mary Sue Coleman, who has pledged $50,000 per year for three years towards campus sustainability projects.

“We likely would not have been able to make Go Blue Box a reality without the PBSIF grant,” Meyer says. “In addition, the support we’ve received from the university has been tremendous. Staff from University Unions and the University Club have helped make this innovative idea a reality, and the student team from Mike Shriberg’s undergraduate campus sustainability class, ENVIRON 391, has been indispensable in putting everything in place. We’re thrilled to finally go live.”

Go Blue Box was founded by Meyer, Rich Grousset and Dave Yang. All three are dual-degree graduate students enrolled in the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and School of Natural Resources and Environment. The dual-degree program is managed by the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise. The undergraduate student team working on the project included Samantha Fischer, Aaron Handley, Maria Kim, Jason Liu and Emily McMahan.


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