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Student food container initiative advances Emory’s pacesetting commitment to sustainability
reusable containers at DCT

Reusable stainless-steel containers were introduced at Dobbs Common Table in April. Student response has been positive, with many glad to see a sustainable alternative in place.

— Photo by Tina Chang, Emory Campus Life.

One day in April 2023, Ari Krupnick stationed himself at Kaldi’s Coffee in the Emory Student Center (ESC) with research on his mind and a click-counter in his hand. Meanwhile, David Clark, vice president of Campus Life, arrived at Kaldi’s for a cup of coffee. He noticed Krupnick, introduced himself and expressed interest in what the student was doing.

Krupnick, who is pursuing a double major in business and environmental science, explained to Clark that the research was being conducted at three Kaldi’s on-campus locations to determine how many students were using their own beverage containers. Every time a student carried out food or a drink in a reusable container, there was one less single-use container to be composted or discarded. Krupnick knew this was a real plus for environmental sustainability, the field in which he plans to pursue a career.

That chance encounter between Krupnick and Clark was the genesis of a student initiative that is already making significant contributions to the university’s environmental sustainability commitment.

“I reached out right away to three students who share my commitment to sustainability, Ella Rose Di Gasbarro, Caroline Quan and John Rose,” says Krupnick, now incoming president of the Emory Sustainable Business Group. “Not long afterward, we were sitting around a table with David Clark and Campus Life’s director of dining, Chad Sunstein. I was amazed by how willing and invested they are in listening to student voices and incorporating student feedback into positive change.”

The newly formed team began discussing the increased post-pandemic use of carryout containers at Dobbs Common Table (DCT) and Cox Hall Food Court. It became clear that reusable takeaway containers could have a substantial impact on Emory’s pacesetting commitment to sustainability.

After researching several companies, the team decided that USEFULL was the best-equipped firm for a large-scale transition. In April 2024, one year to the month after Krupnick and Clark met, the familiar single-use compostable food containers for carryout at DCT gave way to reusable stainless-steel containers from USEFULL.

The process for users is simple — like checking out books at a library.

  • The user downloads the USEFULL app, signs in and provides a form of payment for containers returned late or not at all.
  • The user scans the code on one or more containers; selections include cups and two sizes of bowls, all with covers. After scanning, the container appears in the app, which sends periodic reminders to return the item.
  • When returning containers, users scan to check in and deposit their items in a bin.

Users have two days to return items. After that, they are charged a dollar per day per container. More information about the program is available on the Usefull website.

Students embrace sustainable alternative

“Some students were initially hesitant to give up the ease of throwing away single-use containers, but I know many who are excited about a sustainable alternative,” says Quan, an English and creative writing major on the pre-med track. She serves as the Residence Hall Association’s (RHA) vice president for sustainability. “I think we will all soon see the practical side of reusable food containers. After all, we don’t buy new clothing and discard it after one use, do we?”

John Rose, a business administration major with a sustainability sciences minor, points out a very practical and imminent benefit of the transition.

“Moving to reusable food containers at the DCT now is very timely.Let’s remember that Cox Hall Food Court will be closed for renovations from May 2024 until the scheduled reopening in fall 2025,” says Rose, who serves as co-president of the Sustainable Business Group and co-vice president of sustainability for the Student Government Association.

“I believe most of that traffic will detour to DCT, so the transition to reusable containers at DCT will eliminate an incredible number of single-use containers for an entire school year alone,” Rose adds. 

By the end of the second week, more than 959 unique users had made 4,647 checkouts, saving 422 pounds of trash, according to Sunstein.

He believes those numbers suggest that students are responding favorably to the program.

“Consider the numbers with two or three times as many students, or more, signed up over a full school year,” says Sunstein. “Conservatively, that’s tens of thousands of pounds of trash saved in one year alone — an enormously positive environmental impact.”

Clark and Sunstein offer kudos to the trio of students who led the initiative. The adage that you should always leave a place better than you found it is advice that generations of Emory students have embraced in years past and continue to embrace today.

“This example is just one of many advancements in Emory’s ongoing commitment to sustainability,” says Sunstein. “I continue to be amazed and proud every time our remarkably creative and committed students bring fresh ideas to the table that enhance the Emory experience for us all. And it’s something that happens quite often.”

Did you know?

Among its various sustainability honors, Emory is ranked among the top ten greenest universities in the world by Study International. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) ranked Emory in the top 10 of its 2023 Sustainable Campus Index. Also in 2023 (and for the third consecutive year), the university ranked in the top 10 of Princeton Review’s Top 50 Green Colleges.

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