Blog Post

The dining halls and eateries at colleges and universities are ripe with waste prevention opportunity. Transitioning away from single-use takeout containers is one way institutions can significantly reduce their waste and carbon footprints.

This year, Mount Holyoke College swapped out its single-use food containers and cups for returnables. The college accomplished this by partnering with USEFULL, a company that customizes durable stainless steel foodservice containers that are made to be used, returned, washed, and reused.

In an average year, Mount Holyoke was using around 250,800 compostable containers. Their switch to returnable packaging is projected to prevent 5,488 pounds of single-use material from entering the waste stream each year.


Here is the impact of Mount Holyoke’s transition to USEFULL containers since they implemented the program in February 2022:

    • Prevented 3,292 pounds of trash (equal to 11 couches)
    • Saved 92,179 gallons of water (equal to 5,761 showers)
    • Mitigated 10,325 pounds of emissions (same as driving from New York to LA over 3 times)

Participating in USEFULL’s program is straightforward. First, students download the USEFULL app, where they enter their credit, debit, or student card information. When ordering food for takeout, QR codes on the cups and containers are scanned using the app upon checkout. When students are done with their containers, they simply return and scan them at a designated drop-off point.

Through implementing this takeout container program, Mount Holyoke found that eliminating single-use diningware entirely and exclusively offering returnables optimized the program’s success and maximized waste reduction. Once the college made USEFULL takeout containers the only option, average daily checkouts increased by 160%.

If a single college campus’ switch to reusable takeout containers can avoid the disposal of thousands of pounds of material (not to mention the associated emissions mitigation and water savings), imagine the environmental benefits that could be gained if all colleges in Massachusetts made this change! Impactful waste reduction and recycling initiatives are made possible with clear messaging and education, which RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts (RecyclingWorks) can help with. Contact RecyclingWorks at (888) 254-5525 or for assistance.