Marketing strategies for sustainable takeout containers

While some New York City restaurants railed against a ban on polystyrene packaging, which was recently overturned, Columbia University was ahead of the game, having moved to greener takeout containers years ago. Here’s how Columbia and others have gotten guests to go along. 

1. Monetary incentives

At the start of each semester, student residents get a token to exchange for a reusable container that they can carry whenever they order to-go items, says Vicki Dunn, Columbia’s executive director of dining. If forgotten, students must pay to use a disposable container. As a result, students now use 100,000 fewer such containers, Dunn says.

2. Human reminders

The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Food and Nutrition Services department launched a “Bring It Back” team of ambassadors to collect compostable containers from hospital employees and return them to the kitchen for proper disposal. Dunn uses student “EcoReps” at Columbia to help diners sort compostable items.

3. Shrink the menu

The switch to compostable containers amounted to a 20 percent cost increase at Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. To help offset the expense, its foodservice director cut low-selling menu offerings.


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