Improved Reusable To-go Program Helps Reduce University's Carbon Footprint

The University of Houston is consistently rated as one of the nation's greenest colleges by the Princeton Review. University of Houston Dining Services is dedicated to contributing to the University's sustainability goal through the re-launch of the improved reusable to-go program.

The improved program focuses on increasing the return of the reusable to-go containers. In the past, the program has seen a low container return rate, which forced Dining Services to purchase additional containers on a regular basis. The reusable containers were being thrown away by users instead of reused, which defeats the purpose of the program.

The new program requires all customers to pay a $5 refundable deposit for their first reusable container. After the container is used, customers will need to drop off their used container at any Cougar Xpress Market or dining hall in exchange for a new container or a key tag. The key tag can be traded in at either dining hall at a later date for a clean container. If a customer needs a new reusable to-go container but does not have either a used container or a key tag to exchange, another $5 deposit will be required.

Customers can receive a refund of their deposit at any time by returning their used container or key tag to either the Fresh Food Company or Cougar Woods and requesting a refund instead of a new container. Dining Services cannot issue a deposit refund without either a used container or a key tag in exchange. Additionally, refunds cannot be issued at the Cougar Xpress Markets.

"The new reusable to-go container program exemplifies a truly sustainable program," said Sarah Kelly, program manager for the UH Office of Sustainability. "Previously, we offered a service free of charge to benefit campus members and in turn helped the environment by cutting down on waste entering landfills. However, the program wasn't self-sustaining nor did it make financial sense because the containers were not being returned. The third prong of sustainability — the economy — was lacking. I'm happy to see UH Dining continue to offer an environmentally friendly service to our campus population that now addresses previous economic issues of the program."

The reusable to-go program helps keep 90,000 Styrofoam boxes out of landfills each year. Along with that initiative, Dining Services is also involved in other programs to help reduce the University's carbon footprint such as being strawless and trayless in residential restaurants. This helps reduce trash and water waste. Energy efficient light bulbs and environmentally friendly cleaning products are also used at all UH Dining locations.

To learn about more additional initiatives, visit UH Dining's sustainability website. For more information about UH Dining Services, Follow them on Instagram at Follow them on Twitter at Like them on Facebook at