It’s sustainable, it’s to-go and it’s thanks to one student.
La Posada’s newest program, LaPo To-Go, gives students the ability to take their favorite dining hall food anywhere they please, using reusable containers.
Coleen Geraghty, a civil engineering major and sustainability minor, came up with the idea for reusable to-go boxes in the La Posada dining hall last spring during her time as a sustainability intern for UNM Food.
Geraghty saw the amount of one-use food containers around campus as an opportunity to reduce plastic waste, as well as a push to change the culture of UNM in a more sustainable direction, which she says is her goal.
The Director of Marketing and Guest Experience for UNM Food, Thea Evans, said a to-go option from the dining hall has been a common request from student-focus groups — that’s where Geraghty comes in.
The waste that a to-go option would produce was one of the factors that Geraghty said delayed the process, but by researching other options and what universities around the country were doing, she found the company OZZI.
According to their website, OZZI is geared toward college and university campus dining halls and aims to reduce the amount of one-use to-go containers.
So how does it work?
Students with the Unlimited Meal Plan are able to receive a token at the beginning of the semester that they can exchange for one OZZI to-go container, which then counts as one of their two daily on-the-go swipes.
Containers can hold one large entree and two sides and comes with reusable utensils. However, the lid must be closable.
Dirty containers can be swapped for a clean one or a token. Evans said dirty ones will be cleaned in an industrial washer to ensure sanitation for the next student.
There is also the option of purchasing a container for five dollars if someone does not have an Unlimited Meal Plan.
Currently there are 600 containers in rotation, but Evans and Geraghty said they hope for the program to be expanded.
Evans said UNM Food is completely invested in the program, and La Posada is just the starting point to gauge campus involvement. She said their long-term goal is to have to-go boxes in all swipe locations.
Data will be taken every week to see how many containers are being used and Geraghty said she will use that data to achieve her goal of having to-go boxes in all food places around campus.
Evans said it is important for the Lobo community to do everything possible to reduce waste, which aligns with UNM Foods’ and UNM’s core values of sustainability, and it encourages a culture of utilizing reusable containers instead of disposable ones.
Geraghty also sees this program as a possible means for economic relief.
“We could outfit the entire (Student Union Building) with the to-go containers,” she said. “It would be a huge cost saver because after you buy the to-go containers you don't need to continue buying disposable containers for food.”
Launched just one week ago, the containers are hard to miss — stacked high at the front counter of the dining hall and piled deep in the dirty container bin.
While some students are still unaware or unclear about the program, freshman Cameryn Oshiro said she uses the containers all the time.
She said the convenience of being able to eat in her own dorm is an advantage, as college students like the freedom.
“I think mainly it’s super innovative, I haven't heard about it in any other colleges,” Oshiro said. Despite only eating in La Posada so far, she said she would like to see the option across campus.
An idea that stemmed from research during an internship is now impacting students directly, something that Geraghty said is an amazing feeling.
“I feel really blessed to have an opportunity to make an impact,” she said. “And to have supportive departments and people all around me. They have listened and really helped make it possible.”
As for other students looking to make a difference during their time at UNM, she said asking is the hardest step, but recommends getting involved and talking to all departments.
Madison Spratto is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Madi_Spratto.