Reusable Food Container Survey Report

In the survey that was sent out to many students around campus in various disciplines, the results that came back were confusing and inconsistent.  On some questions students would be equally distributed on, and other questions that would be related had landslide results in favor of a single answer.

One of the biggest complaints about the program is that they containers cannot be used for the salad bar.  Several students want the program to succeed who are also fans of salads.  So because they cannot do both, it forces them to choose one or the other.  The main reason that was gathered from Gene as to why not, is that it would be leaving several of the containers in the open for people to take and possibly walk out with.  I figure if there is someone watching the front doors, than that would not be much of an issue.  And as long as the cashiers were watchful too, than there would not be anybody walking out with just a container.

Some students complained that the food point charge is too much, and that it actually deters people from getting the boxes.  Well from the perspective of Chartwells, they need that charge to be able to pay for the boxes in the first place.  From my own perspective, that complaint is really just those students saying that they are lazy and do not want to take the time out of their precious days to bring the container back to be refunded.  Which to me is no excuse at all.

A few students were concerned about the cleanliness of the boxes.  They must not know that Chartwells just got a brand new dishwasher that is able to thoroughly clean the containers.  Someone also complained that the containers are not always dry when they are brought up to the front.  That is because there are not always enough of the containers to hand out, and so they have to be quickly brought out before they have time to dry off from the washer.

Roughly the same number of students know a lot vs only a little about the reusable food container program, and the same for how often they are being used, yet nearly all students think there needs to be more boxes and that there need to be more place on campus to return them.  Gene had actually informed me that he wants to get more containers, and that was well before my survey went out.  All the while it is a 50/50 split for students that think the return process need adjustments, of which more locations qualifies as an adjustment.

Nearly all of the drop-off location ideas were in the dorms.  That says that people want closer locations than having to go half way across campus and back.  Mostly people said that Stuy should have the ability.  Gene had mentioned to me in fact, that the next location for drop-off points is the Stuy café.  So people have that coming to them.

The most commonly mentioned adjustment aside from drop-off locations was to implement barcodes to tie specific boxes to the student that checked them out.  That way if the box was returned, the proper student would be refunded.  Adding in an email notification was also mentioned, that way if the student did not know where their box was, they would discover it was returned by someone else.

Another proposed modification to the return system was to increase the amount of hours available to return them.  Only one student gave an idea of when that should be.  The only downside to that would be that Chartwells has to then pay the extra money to the employee(s) that cover that extra time, and one big point of this program is to save money from waste.

Most students think that the idea of a token for use instead of food points is too difficult to do, or that they would be lost.  I blame myself for phrasing it as a token, because most people probably though it meant something like a coin when it would not be like that.

Several students think that there needs to be a different incentive for the containers.  However they failed to mention whether it be positive, or an alternative negative.  If it were to be positive, I can only think of “Return your box within 24 hours of purchase, and get X amount on food points off your next meal”.  An alternative negative could be similar to that, or even tied with it at the same time.  That being “If you do not return your box within 24 hours, you will be charged 5 food points”.  However that can only reasonably be done if there was a barcode system in place.

Some other suggestions were to improve the advertising and to always have the return bins out.  For advertising, there is really not much more that can be done aside from talking about it among the students.  And the bins are always out, I just think those students showed up right after they were taken back to drop off other returns to the dishwasher.

Sadly, there were some students who thought that they needed to wash out the containers before returning them.  Granted it as not very many, but I would have hoped that people had heard or known enough about them to realize that they do not need to wash them themselves.

Thankfully, several people who belong to clubs or other organizations said that their group would be able to help however necessary for the program.  Most of them said through promotion such as hanging up flyers around campus, others said they would help in transporting the containers from various drop-off points to Hamwill.  One student said their group would help fundraise for the program.  Some athletes feel that it is up to their coach to decide what they do.  A couple of students said their groups would not help clean the containers (not that they would need to in the first place….), and others said they would not do anything if it took more than an hour per week, which sounds very lazy to me.

Going back to the food point charge and the inconsistency that was observed in this survey, despite many people saying earlier that there should be a different incentive, well over half of the respondents said that Chartwells should keep the 5 food point charge.  Of the few that still said to change it, some proposed making it completely free.  That is just not possible for Chartwells to do, as they need to pay for the boxes in the first place.  They need to at least break even with the food point charge in order to justify having the containers in the first place.  Another proposition was to make all of the containers reusable, in an attempt to justify a free of charge idea.  Again, that is just not doable for Chartwells.

Inconsistency stuck again when asked about using the token proposition (which was actually obtained from Oberlin’s program).  Despite several responses saying how the in-survey idea of a token would not work well, it was a 50/50 split when specifically asked if it would work better than the current system.

In the “add your own personal comments” question, most people responded to the token proposition and why they do not think it would work, while others simply repeated things they had mentioned earlier in the survey.  Reasons vary from it being too complicated, to one token meaning only one box out at a time, to there being no consequences leading to lost boxes over time.  Again, I blame myself for using the word token.  To those responses, I say this: It only seems complicated because of the details.  The token could be adjusted to being something on your student ID, allowing for multiple checkouts.  And the consequence could be a weekly checkup on how many boxes you checked out vs how many you returned.  If there is enough of a difference, than the ability to get the boxes can be revoked.

These are the results of my survey.  For better or worse, something or nothing, I found that there is a lot of inconsistency among the minds of the student body.  Though I did gather some information that Gene may find useful, such as people wanting more containers, more drop-off points such as at Stuy café, and that he could obtain help from some clubs to get transportation assistance going from various drop-off points to Hamwill.


I would recommend to anyone that chooses to continue this project to get in contact with Gene and see what he would have you do.  I am also here until the end of the spring semester of 2016, so I am also available to help should it be desired.





Gene Castelli



Blake Brewer







Oberlin web page about their reusable food container program

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