UC Merced Connect University diners ditch toss-out boxes

August 29, 2012 

Campus diners who get their meals to go are helping save the environment one container at a time.

UC Merced is the first campus west of the Mississippi to use the OZZI container-recycling system. In the week since the machine that collects containers was placed in the dining center, the program has become very popular.

"The students are asking about it, they want to know how it works, and they are very excited when we explain it to them," said Abraham Cereno, manager of the campus's multipurpose CatCard ID and account program. "When we tell them we are the first campus in the West to use this, they are like, 'Go Bobcats!' They want to make a difference."

And they will -- last year, the campus went through about a quarter million take-out containers. Soon, the only option for people who want take-out from the dining hall will be the new green containers.

The reuse program isn't just for students, though. It's for anyone who buys a meal at the dining center with the intent of taking it outside the dining area.

Here's how the program works: The first time you buy a to-go dish, you pay $5 for the green plastic container the food comes in. You return the used container, and you get either a token for the next one, or a credit on your meal plan. At the end of the year, if you have a token or credit left, you can get your last meal, turn in your token or swipe your card, and you'll get that initial $5 credited back to your meal plan.

If you get that final credit, the program ends up costing you nothing. That would save a lot of money compared with paying the 50-cents-per-meal take-out surcharge the dining center was charging to cover the cost of compostable take-out containers.

Cereno is programming the OZZI machine to swipe CatCards so no one will have to carry tokens. However, the tokens still will remain in use for people without meal-plan cards.

Although the green containers are durable, they are not meant to be washed by students and reused. They must be sanitized between uses by Dining Services. The containers and the bar codes on the bottom of each one will last for about 200 washings before they are recycled again.

The program, Souza said, is a way of recognizing that take-out is a culture that is not going away.

"People are busy. They don't always have time to sit down in here and eat in. But this way, they can do what they need to do and still feel good about helping the environment," Souza said.

The goal is the drastic reduction or elimination of disposable containers to help meet the campus's Zero Net Waste pledge.

Urban dance troupe

UC Merced presents the acclaimed Lula Washington Dance Theater in Merced on Sept. 29. Renowned for its mix of jazz, ballet and urban street styles, the troupe will perform at the Art Kamangar Center at the Merced Theatre.

The event starts at 7:30 p.m. at 301 W. Main St. in downtown Merced. Tickets are $15 general admission and $10 for students. They can be purchased online at http://arts.ucmerced.edu.

The dance performance is sponsored by Arts UC Merced Presents.

UC Merced Connect is a collection of news items written by the University Communications staff. To contact them, email communications@ucmerced.edu.

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