Eco to Go

Writer: Jessica Schmitt, Associated Students Recycling and Compost Program Coordinator

Reusable food containers are now available at Coral Tree Cafe for customers who would like to reduce their personal environmental impact. These bright green reusable containers make up the ‘Eco-To-Go’ program spearheaded by a few students at UC Santa Barbara. According to a UC Berkeley study, if used 15 times or more, these containers have a smaller environmental impact than compostable containers. 
Changes in the international recycling markets over the past couple of years have had an impact on recycling locally. These changes have left consumers confused as some plastics are no longer recyclable and there is a limited list of items that can actually be recycled in the blue bin. The dependence on recycling waste needs to end and the focus needs to shift to reducing and reusing instead. Although the current containers in on-campus eateries are compostable, avoiding waste in the first place reduces production-side resource use, and relies less on the end of life processes such as recycling and composting.
UC Santa Barbara is committed to the UC system-wide goals of reaching 90% waste diversion from landfill and reducing waste generation by 50% per capita by 2030. Due to the waste management reduction focus and the ambitious UC goals, UC Santa Barbara students have been looking for creative ways to reduce waste on campus. 
Associated Students (AS) Recycling Student Coordinators and Zero Waste Interns (working in AS Recycling funded by UCSB Sustainability) determined that reducing waste from on-campus eateries would be a great place to start. The amount of daily disposable serviceware leaving on-campus cafes is staggering. Replacing disposable containers with reusable containers would give customers a chance to make a personal and simple behavior change to reduce cafe waste.
“People won’t change their wasteful habits if the replacement is not just as practical and easy,” said Kathryn Foster, Zero Waste Intern, “and this initiative is creating a way for people to eliminate waste in their lives with little extra effort.” 
The first round of reusable containers and related supplies were funded by the AS Zero Waste Committee and AS Recycling. These students hope that reusable options will become the default on-campus for all eateries, but there are a lot of steps between here and there.  
“An essential part of decreasing our demand on the planet is ending single-use habits, and this program gets us one step closer,” said Rebecca Wright, AS Recycling Outreach Coordinator, “and the fact that our campus is beginning this journey makes me proud to be a student here.”
In Spring 2019, the pilot ‘Eco-To-Go program’ was launched at Coral Tree Cafe. Students conducted surveys, monitored usage and promoted the program to increase participation. With a successful pilot completed, the Coral Tree Cafe Manager, Krista Fritzen and the UCen Associate Director of UCen Dining, Robbie Yankow, approved a full launch in Fall 2019. Due to the student interest and advocacy for this project, customers are now able to use these containers. 
Coral Tree Cafe was chosen for the pilot due to the enthusiasm shown by Krista Fritzen to make the cafe more sustainable. “I am excited to be part of a program that not only will reduce on-campus waste, but hopefully will encourage waste-reduction habits in students, who will then bring this awareness back to their communities.” She believes that food packaging waste is a large problem and reducing that will be very impactful.
To participate, go to Coral Tree Cafe and become a member of ‘Eco-To-Go’ by paying a one-time membership fee of $5. Next, order your meal and receive it in your reusable container. After enjoying your meal in the café or elsewhere, return the container to Coral Tree Cafe at your convenience to receive a membership card to keep in your wallet. Next time you order a meal, hand the cashier your card and get your meal in the reusable container. And the reuse cycle continues.
Foster expressed her excitement about this project saying, “as a student who is constantly walking all over the campus from class to class, a reusable to-go container program would make it easier for me to meet my goals of personal waste reduction without forgoing productivity and convenience.” 
What’s next? The students are hoping this program will be successful at Coral Tree Cafe and it will expand to other eateries on campus. The students are aiming for new waste reduction initiatives. Some ideas they are excited about include replacing single packets of sugar and condiments with bulk containers, eliminating plastic wrap where possible, improving signage on waste bins and increasing the availability of compost bins. UC Santa Barbara students are dedicated to this cause and, I for one, can’t wait to see what they do next.
After all, as Wright states, “these projects require collaboration and energy, but they will be worth it in the end because we will have worked towards a world we want, instead of a world we have been given.”
To learn more about this program, go to