New Choose to Reuse program aims to reduce packaging waste.
This article was initially posted at BU Today, written by Melina Nguyen, and photo by Cydney Scott.
With four dining halls around Boston University’s Charles River Campus, lunch is always conveniently around the corner. But if you don’t have the time to sit down for a meal, the George Sherman Union Food Hall is a fan favorite for quick bites you can grab on the go.
What could make it better? In partnership with BU Dining Services, students, staff, and faculty can now choose a reusable to-go container instead of a disposable (and less Earth-friendly) container at their next visit to the GSU.
Beginning February 1, the disposable to-go fee at the participating locations increased from 75 cents to $2.50. The reusable containers are free as long as they are returned within three days of initial pickup (diners are charged $8 if they are not returned).
According to the BU Dining Services website, the Choose to Reuse program is currently available at Charles River Bread Company, Greens and Grains, Halal Guys, Open Kitchen, Panda Express, and Rhett’s.
The purpose of this program is to “significantly reduce waste,” says Lexie Raczka, Dining Services sustainability director. “We are really excited about this opportunity to provide students with, hopefully, a seamless experience that doesn’t require much more effort on their part aside from bringing a container back to the GSU,” she says.
The Choose to Reuse program aligns with BU’s Zero Waste Plan, which aims to divert 90 percent of BU’s trash from incineration or landfills by 2030. With an estimated hundreds of thousands of containers thrown out annually in the GSU, the primary goal of the reusable containers is to reduce packaging waste, Raczka says. The program will also encourage people to use the metal utensils on location and limit their disposable utensil usage.
Students with reservations about the new program took to Reddit to speak about the $8 fee on unreturned containers. One comment: “You know that those reusable containers are going to be forgotten in your dorm room and then, inevitably you’ll miss the 3-day return period which will end up costing you [$8]. Just one more thing you have to think about.”
Katherine Liu (Questrom’25) thinks that while some students won’t mind the increased disposable packaging fee, the new reusable containers may not be convenient for those who do not visit the GSU often. “It’s now $2.50 to do it to-go, which is definitely more than it used to be. But I don’t think $2.50 for a lot of students would make them [think], okay, I’m never using a to-go container,” she says. “If you don’t eat at the GSU as much, you’re not spending that much money, what would $2.50 do for one time?”
On the other hand, Liu says, the to-go containers at the GSU have become a habit for many students. The new increased fee might push them towards a reusable container. “I’ve always done the to-go containers no matter what, which is not great,” she says. “I feel like I will now try to be more aware of what I’m throwing out and what I’m reusing.”
That’s exactly the point, says Paul Riel, BU associate vice president for auxiliary services. “This container costs you nothing to use, it’s as effective as a disposable container, and it’s sustainable, which is really what BU is committed to,” he says.
And for those who don’t have time to sit at a table or have to rush to a class, Raczka says, the reusable containers are a great free option.
How it works
When diners sign up for the Choose to Reuse program, they order their meal as usual through GrubHub, and the Dining Services worker packs their food in a reusable container. When a diner is done eating, he or she has three days to drop the container in one of the two Choose to Reuse collection bins in the GSU Food Hall. Containers will be marked either “Due soon” or “Late” on the app, which will send SMS reminders about the container status. There will be an $8 fee for each container that’s not returned.
On the February 1 launch day, more than 500 hungry customers ordered as usual on the GrubHub app, only this time, their food was packed in the new shiny green containers. Those containers are now tracked through ReusePass, the free web app that starts working as soon as someone picks up their first container.
Riel says the mobile tracking technology, developed by reusable packaging management platform Topanga.io, was essential in rolling out the Choose to Reuse program. Both Raczka and Riel say the program is similar to checking out a library book.
“Getting people to adapt to the program was our biggest concern,” Riel says. A week into the program, almost 2,000 people had joined via Grubhub and checked out about 2,500 reusable containers, according to Dining Services.
The Choose to Reuse process was “really easy” for Margi Lonergan (CAS’25). “I just basically clicked the restaurant and then did the Choose to Reuse [option] and then they sent me a text explaining the instructions,” she says. “If you don’t bring it back to the little station, you just pay $8, but it’s really easy to just bring it over there.”
Another positive aspect of Choose to Reuse is the containers themselves, which are made of a durable material designed to last and withstand the sanitization process, Riel says.
Lonergan actually prefers the sturdier reusable, eco-friendly containers. “I think it’s easier to carry around,” she says. “Other [disposable containers], honestly, are less spill-proof. I feel like these ones are great for bringing around if you don’t finish it and want to go to class.”
Raczka says Dining Services is committed to bringing more of the BU community on board with the Zero Waste plan.
“Disposable packaging is one of the key areas that we need to address as a department for Zero Waste,” she says. “We really wanted to disincentivize the use of disposables as we work towards the University’s Zero Waste commitments and try to nudge people to more sustainable behaviors.”