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A sustainability revolution: SEED plans to replace single use to-go containers with recyclable, reusable containers

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OZZI System

In response to the UW’s sustainability goals for 2020, the RSO Students Expressing Environmental Dedication (SEED) has implemented the OZZI reusable container project

The goal of the reusable container project, which is currently in a pilot period at Local Point in West Campus, is to reduce single-use compostable containers. The system allows students to use reusable OZZI containers for their take-out food. 

SEED is very optimistic about the project. Before launching it, they composed a survey with 576 current HFS residents. Ninety percent of the student respondents expressed that sustainability is very important to them, and 52.4% of residents said they would be very likely to participate in a reusable container program.

Jenna Truong, executive director of SEED, said that the group started off with 200 participation slots for the pilot program and had a full response rate within two days.

Now, there are OZZI machines at Local Point to collect reusable containers for those enrolled in the program. Students can obtain reusable containers with their to-go food. Once they finish using the containers, they can return them to the machines. After students return their containers, the machines will give out a token. Students will be able to use the token in exchange for another reusable container for their next to-go purchase. 

The machines in the dining hall mainly work to collect the containers and gather data for analysis. The dining hall staff clean the containers to prepare for the next exchange. 

Truong said that the containers are environmentally friendly, despite being made of plastic.

“They are completely recyclable,” Truong said. “And they are supposed to last up to 300 uses. So after the 300 uses, you can just recycle them.” 

The program is funded by the Campus Sustainability Fund and SEED. Most of the funding is dedicated to the OZZI machines.

“All of the money is actually going to the machines, the containers, and everything required to run the program,” Truong said. “We aren’t paying any labor cost. Housing & Food Services (HFS) is absorbing that if any come up.”

Clive Pursehouse, assistant director of residential life, said that the project should be thought of as an investment. 

“It would be a huge startup cost to buy the proper amount of reusable containers, machines, and tokens,” Pursehouse said. “But the long-term savings plus the environmental benefits would be tremendous.”

Landfills are detrimental to the environment. Garbage disposal also costs a lot more than other processes: in Seattle, it costs $145 per ton to dispose of garbage, $60 per ton to dispose of compost, and $0 to recycle.

Pursehouse explained some of the issues HFS faced with recycling that made them initiate the OZZI reusable container project. 

“This happens a lot, unfortunately: students could be accidentally putting compostable containers in the recycling bin,” Pursehouse said. “When this happens, it contaminates all of the recycling and then that recycling becomes garbage.” 

For a more in-depth view of the recycling situation, the UW conducted a Waste Characterization Study. The study collected random samples from three different waste streams. The results showed 62% of “garbage” could be diverted from landfill. According to SEED, a large portion of that waste was generated from the food industry on campus and the to-go containers that are used.

The UW is making progress to reduce the landfill cost. In 2018, the university was able to divert 60.9% of its waste through composting, recycling, or reselling. In 2020, it plans to keep 70% of its waste out of landfills. 

SEED and HFS are both encouraged by other universities that have launched similar projects. Oregon State University started the Eco2Go reusable food container program in 2015. The program was successful and was able to prevent “400,000 disposable containers from going to the landfill in the 2015-16 school year alone,” according the the Eco2Go website.

SEED is working with the sustainability studio at the UW to gather quantitative data for further examination of the project. In winter 2020, the student organization will open more spots for students to join the reusable container project. 

Reach contributing writer Joycee Zhou at Twitter: @JoyceeZhou

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