Grab & Go 2.0: Assessing the Effectiveness of a New Waste Reduction Program

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The reusable container program, Grab & Go 2.0, was implemented at Smith College in September 2017 as an attempt to reduce paper waste and costs associated with single-use paper products; however, it is unclear to what extent the program has achieved these goals.

Before fall 2017, Grab & Go 1.0 was available in two of Smith’s 13 dining halls and provided students with to-go lunch options such as pre-wrapped sandwiches, salads in disposable plastic clamshells, and hot paper soup cups. In dining halls without grab and go options, however, single-use paper plates were available for students to use at any meal time. As a result, purchasing single-use paper products for both the Grab and Go 1.0 program and regular dining halls led to an increase in both cost and waste for Dining Services. To combat these increases, single-use paper products were replaced with reusable plastic clamshells, manufactured by the Rhode Island based company Ozzi.

The Grab & Go 2.0 program provides each student on the meal plan with a token that can be exchanged for a reusable container and used at any dining hall. When students are finished with their meal, they return their container to any one of three collection machines, and receive a token in return. Dining Services has implemented Grab & Go 2.0 in the context of Smith trying to reach carbon neutrality by 2030. The disposal of solid waste generates carbon emissions, so by replacing paper products with reusable plastic clamshells, Dining is working towards this carbon neutrality goal. Based on purchasing data, the program has successfully reduced cost and waste, but it is unclear how students are using Grab & Go 2.0. To gain an understanding of student participation in the program we relied on a variety of data including: (1) interviews with project implementers, (2) historic swipe data from Grab & Go 1.0 dining halls Chapin and Hubbard, (3) Container return data from Ozzi collection machines and (4) an anonymous student survey.

The two major issues we identified in the current implementation of Grab & Go 2.0 are the token system and program outreach. We found that Grab & Go 2.0 is serving its purpose of giving students the option to take their meals elsewhere. However, major issues with the token system leave much to be desired for the future of the to-go system.

In the short term, Dining Services could provide students with two tokens, allowing them to continue to participate even if they lose one. Student understanding of replacing a lost token could be improved by adding this info to the dining website, dining app, and the front of the collection machines. For the long-term success of the program, Dining Services should work towards the goal of converting to a OneCard-based, electronic token system. Until then, a procedure for end-of-year token or container return should be established to minimize Ozzi product losses.

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