Reusable to-go boxes promote better food sustainability

The USC Sustainability Strategy 2030 and President Carol Folt’s Zero Waste Inauguration plans have highlighted the school’s enthusiastic pursuit of environmental sustainability, and food sustainability has emerged as an important area of focus. Although the school does recognize the importance of maintaining food sustainability, the strategies are limited to food source regulation rather than food conservation. By providing reusable to-go boxes in dining halls, the school would encourage students to not only produce less food waste but also carry out sustainable living habits. 

Providing reusable to-go boxes at the dining halls would allow students to make more rational dietary choices. Currently, all three dining halls on campus offer the 

swipe-and-eat-all-you-can policy, where people are free to take as much food as they want. Freshmen may have a more impressive meal plan — they prepay at least $3,150 for unlimited swipes into the dining halls. 

Diners, however, are not allowed to take food out of the dining halls, and they do not have the option to take the food to-go. The current dining policies are clear and straightforward. However, the policies do not appear to be environmentally conscious enough. 

For one thing, many people may get more food than they are able to eat. This is a problem for both individuals who have the unlimited swipes meal plan and those who do not. The buffet-style dining creates an incentive for people to eat as much as they can and take advantage of the value of the swipe or the money they spend. This is not an environmentally opportunistic act — it’s normal. Provided with the various food choices, people may even unconsciously take more food than they are capable of eating, resulting in more food waste. 

With the reusable to-go boxes, students are encouraged to take a more reasonable amount of food. Since to-go boxes have defined sizes, they ultimately prevent diners from taking too much food. Rather, people are more likely to hone the responsibility of planning what and how much food they will consume. 

A more common situation is that students may not worry about the food left on their plates. However, since they can neither put the food back nor take it to-go, they can do nothing but dump it away. If students have access to to-go boxes, they will be able to take their leftovers with them, reducing food waste by a considerable amount. 

Offering reusable to-go boxes is not an easy policy to implement. Some problems are troublesome, such as the hygiene of returned boxes, the supply and management of the boxes and the financial budget for the boxes. Yet, while the potential problems may impede effective administration, they do not negate the value and benefits of reusable to-go boxes as a significant step toward food sustainability on campus. In fact, the school needs to incorporate those potential obstacles in the policymaking process.

It appears the school has already adopted similar changes, such as the efforts to eliminate plastic straws in dining halls. This past success sheds light on the school’s ability to accept reforms. In fact, providing students with reusable to-go boxes is far from the bold to be proposition one may assume. Many universities, such as Boston College and the University of Georgia, have already implemented this policy, though in different ways. 

The school should be open to embracing all possibilities that are helpful in achieving its goals on sustainability. By providing students with these boxes, the school affirms its belief in sustainability, both pragmatically and innovatively. More importantly, this policy incentivizes food conservation by developing healthier eating habits among students. It is time for the school to plan for a more influential and larger-scale reform in food sustainability.