Roughly a decade ago, G.E.T. pioneered the Eco-Takeouts® line of reusable to-go containers. For the first time, this method of meal takeaway offered a reusable feature, as opposed to disposable to-go boxes, to college, university, and business and industry foodservice operators.
Ever since, it’s been an attractive to-go dining program for secondary education foodservice facilities because Eco-Takeouts® are more cost-effective, sustainable, and operationally friendlier than disposable polystyrene takeout containers.
If you’re curious about what it would cost to implement an Eco-Takeouts® reusable program at your college or university, we’ve got you covered. We’re going to give you an overview of costs, along with some best practices, to help you gain an understanding of what an initial investment in an Eco-Takeouts® to-go program might look like for your school’s dining facilities in the 2017-2018 school year.
What is an Eco-Takeouts® Reusable Program?
Most colleges and universities offer takeout containers in their cafeterias, which allow busy students to eat their meals on the go. With Eco-Takeouts® reusable to-go containers, students typically pay to receive their first container.
When that container has been used, students bring it back to the cafeteria on their next visit and exchange it for a clean one. This creates a closed-loop system of takeout containers as opposed to single-use disposable polystyrene. The Eco-Takeouts® containers are also recyclable, so they add a green component to your to-go containers program – something that students highly value – which helps to create buy-in for the program.
We’ve found that the majority of schools charge students for their containers because it helps to recoup the initial investment down the road. It also creates an accountability model for students by encouraging them to keep track, and take good care of their containers. If they need to replace their container because it’s been lost or damaged, they're usually required to purchase their next container.
Of course, including an accountability model is up to you, but we’ve found that it can result in a more successful program rollout.
Now that you’ve got an idea of what the program is and how it works, let’s break down what it might cost to start using Eco-Takeouts® reusable to-go containers on campus instead of disposable ones.
Cost Influencers for Launching an Eco-Takeouts® Reusable To-Go Container Program
There are four major factors that influence the initial investment required to implement an Eco-Takeouts® program. These factors can vary from campus to campus depending on the volume of daily to-go meals and the extent to which the program is marketed to students.
- Quantity of takeout meals served on campus daily
- Average percent of containers lost or damaged by students
- Average annual replacement cost
- Marketing the program to students
Quantity of Takeout Meals Served on Campus Daily
You’ll need to know how many takeout meals students order daily to calculate the number of Eco-Takeouts® containers you should start with to comfortably debut your reusable program. Most colleges and universities launch their reusable programs using the versatile three-compartment Eco-Takeouts® container EC-12-1. For this article, we’ll assume a reusable program starts with this single product option.
Pro Tip A ratio of 3:1, or 3 containers for each takeout meal served, will give you ideal inventory volume and optimal service life.
This allows for one container to be in use, one in wash, and one in rest. Operators can get by with a minimum ratio of 1.5:1, but the service life won’t be as long as it would with a 3:1 ratio.
Average Percent of Reusable Takeout Containers Lost or Damaged by Students
We are leaning that on average about 10% of Eco-Takeouts® reusable to-go containers are lost or damaged by students annually.
Sometimes students just prefer to keep their containers. They may want to use them outside of on-campus dining, or choose to hold on to them as a keepsake. Of course, sometimes the containers simply get lost in the busy day-to-day lives of college students.
Building an accountability model into a reusable takeout program by charging to replace lost or damaged containers is a helpful tool for managing the volume of lost or damaged containers. It's also a testament to a program's success if students like their containers so much that they want to keep them.
Annual Replacement Cost of Eco-Takeouts® To-Go Containers
In addition to loss and damage, we've noticed that about 10%-20% of Eco-Takeouts® reusable to-go containers need replacing annually due to normal wear and tear. Eco-Takeouts® have the same replacement rate as melamine plates, and will serve your foodservice operation similarly in terms of service life.
Proper care and maintenance will also help you get the most out of your reusable takeout containers. You can watch this video for detailed instructions, but generally you should:
- Use gentle detergents and stay away from harsh chemicals like bleach
- Use soft sponges to clean as metal scrubbers can scratch the material
- Reheat food at 1-2 minute intervals because the material can warp if it gets too hot
Some colleges choose to replace all of their containers and start fresh each school year. They may want to let students keep the containers at the end of the year, update branding, change out container designs, max out budgets, etc. And because Eco-Takeouts® are recyclable, creating unnecessary waste isn't a concern as long as access to recycling facilities is available. If you decide to replace your inventory yearly, you won't need to include this cost in your overall initial investment.
Marketing the Eco-Friendly Reusable Takeout Program to Students
Marketing to students is an optional investment, but one that we recommend to increase the program’s overall success. All Eco-Takeouts® reusable to-go containers are customizable for an extra cost. Popular options include adding a branded message, like your school’s logo, and/or a design illustrating the easy three-step process of the program.
You can use additional print and digital marketing collateral to further support your Eco-Takeouts® reusable to-go container program.
Here are some ideas for marketing the program to students:
- Leave table tents or small fliers on tables or trays in cafeterias – students may see these almost daily
- Post fliers around campus and in dining areas
- Use existing digital channels like email and social media to create and distribute campaign material
- Hang posters in common areas and in dining halls
- Word of mouth
Today's students are inclined to opt into green initiatives, which makes Eco-Takeouts® reusable to-go containers a great option for getting students excited about on-campus dining. It's also a great way to generate word-of-mouth buzz around the program.
When students begin to see their friends enjoying the program, they'll want to opt in as well. You can create organic interest in your program just by getting a handful of students to be your ambassadors, which can also help to reduce the amount of marketing dollars you may spend by using other methods.
Budget Scenario for Eco-Takeouts® Reusable To-Go Program
Let’s look at a scenario for a college serving 1,000 takeaway meals a day. We’ll budget for:
- Total cost of the EC-12-1 container
- Replacing 10% due to loss or damage
- Replacing 20% due to normal wear and tear
- We’ll use the recommended ratio of 3:1
To find the cost of the Eco-Takeouts® containers by themselves, (not including replacement costs yet):
- 1,000 to-go meals a day = 3,000 containers needed to meet the recommended 3:1 ratio
- EC-12-1 containers are an estimated $4.43 per container (may vary based on your dealer and volume of your order)
- 3,000 x $4.43 = $13,290 (total cost of initial Eco-Takeouts® reusable to-go container purchase for one school year)
To budget for annual replacement costs:
- 10% (100 containers) for loss and damaged containers = $443
- 20% (200 containers) for annual replacement due to wear and tear = $886
To find your complete investment cost, including the cost of the containers + replacement percentages, we'll add up all of the totals from above:
- $13,290 + $443 + $886 = $14,619
Pro Tip Your total investment = cost of product + 10% of inventory for loss and damage + 20% of inventory for annual replacement
Now, let’s say the same college charges students $10 each for their first Eco-Takeouts® reusable to-go container. Let's take a look at how much you could recoup under this scenario:
- 1,000 takeout meals a day = 1,000 students paying for an Eco-Takeouts® reusable container
- At $10 per container, you'll recoup $10,000 of your original investment
- This means that the school is only $4,619 out-of-pocket
We're going to add one final layer to this scenario that includes the amount you could recoup from lost or damaged to-go containers, which will affect about 10% of students who use Eco-Takeouts® reusable containers.
- 10% of 1,000 students = 100 who will need to replace their containers due to being lost or damaged
- These 100 students would pay $10 each to receive new containers
- This means that you'll recoup an additional $1,000 from students replacing their containers during the school year
- If you subtract this from the $4,619 in the section above, you're now at only $3,619 out-of-pocket
If you decide to add your school's logo or a how-to-use graphic to your Eco-Container, which is great way to build pride for your school or awareness of the resuable takeout program, plan to add about $1.50 - $2 per container to your budget. Read Customization Options for Eco-Takeouts® Reusable To-Go Containers for more information.
Who’s Not a Good Candidate for an Eco-Takeouts® Reusable Program?
Earlier in the article, we mentioned that most colleges and universities offer takeout as a dining option, but not every school does. Some prefer to only offer dine-in to encourage togetherness and bonding on campus. For colleges or universities that do not offer meals to-go, Eco-Takeouts® reusable containers will not benefit your dining program.
However, if an Eco-Takeouts® reusable to-go container program sounds like the best choice for your school’s dining program, we invite you to read more about getting your program off the ground in “The Best Way to Implement Eco-Takeouts® Reusable Food Containers.”