I was too lazy this morning to pack a lunch and I was too busy to leave the office. As a result, I ate out of a styrofoam takeout container. Sad. Then I remembered something I’d read recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Florida’s Eckerd College has started a voluntary program through which students can register for reusable takeout containers. How in the world does this work? I’ll let the Eckerd College Web site explain:
Eckerd students can sign up for an EcoClamshell in the cafeteria during any meal. The student’s account is charged five dollars, covering the student’s four years at Eckerd, unless the container is lost or destroyed. The student checks out an EcoClamshell, fills it with food and exits the cafeteria. Upon returning to the cafeteria, the student checks the container back in and places it on the dishwasher conveyor, where it is sanitized and put out for reuse. This creates a closed loop system where the container circulates for years before being retired to a recycling center.
Read more here.
Could the reusable clamshell survive outside of a college campus’ protective ecosystem? Obviously there are some obstacles. Would health department regulations even allow it? Would washing plastic instead of buying styrofoam increase costs for restaurants? Increase hassles?
Reusing containers is not a new idea. I’m not old enough to remember milkmen, but I’m almost certain the tales of leaving empty bottles out for return and refilling at the dairy are not urban legends. But, again, would it work in a restaurant? Maybe if a place is committed to sustainable practices and has enough regular customers, reusable containers could be viable. While not educational in nature, I’m reminded of another Florida institution which assigns serving vessels to individual customers, although these generally don’t leave the building:
A Ken’s mug is more than just a simple piece of plastic. For those lucky enough to have one, it is more like a rite of passage. Usually offered once a semester, anyone who is interested can obtain a Ken’s mug with a little work. After one (of at least 21 years of age) waits long enough, a $35 fee must be paid to receive the mug. Once a mug is purchased, it can last a lifetime as long as its owner makes a point to quench their thirst at Ken’s at least once each semester. Many FSU graduates return just to retain the life of their mug and the drink specials and notoriety that come with it.
What a great way to build customer loyalty. Read more here.