What is PLAN?
The Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN) is a non-profit dedicated to educating and inspiring students to reimagine and restructure wasteful systems on their college and university campuses. Through step-by-step advising and providing resources to our 80+ member campuses, PLAN supports students and administrators as they build systemic solutions from the ground up. These solutions range from campus composting and move-out programs to on-campus thrift stores, sharing closets, and makerspaces.
What does a “reusable to-go coffee cup system” look like?
Disposable paper coffee cups and their plastic lids provide an excellent first target for a systemic solution to small format plastic items in communities worldwide. And what better a testing ground for these community solutions than a college or university campus? Reusable alternatives -- stainless steel, glass, or durable plastic to-go mugs -- already exist, but aren’t always used because the systems don’t exist for a user-friendly experience. Building an accessible, infrastructurally-sound system for distribution, collection, cleaning, and re-circulation of these mugs will make reusables more convenient to consumers than their disposable counterpart. A system that incorporates reusable mugs into cafes’ everyday operations frees individual, busy consumers from needing to remember their own own to-go mug, thus making disposable to-go cups and lids obsolete.
While this is a system that can be replicated in communities all over the world, we propose that college and university campuses serve as an ideal testing grounds for this idea.
While logistics will vary among campuses, the basics of a to-go mug system are detailed below.
- Every cafe and campus eatery has their disposable to-go cups replaced with a fleet of reusable to-go mugs.
- At each cafe/eatery and throughout campus, there exist collection locations for these reusable mugs.
- In order to get their drink "to-go," students and staff on campus must either bring a personal mug or deposit $5-$15 to receive a branded mug from the cafe or eatery. The deposit is charged to their campus account through a barcode on each mug
- After enjoying their beverage purchase, customers can deposit their dirty to-go mug at a designated collection bin on campus or bring it back to their next cafe visit to be exchanged for a clean one with their next purchase.
To dig into the logistical challenges and possible solutions during the implementation of this program, see the FAQ document attached to this submission.
What will PLAN do to make it happen?
PLAN will tap its network to pick a diverse handful of campuses that are well-positioned to pilot this project. Our Campus Coordinators will work closely with students and staff on that campus to develop advertising and marketing materials, a logistical plan, and any other necessary resources. PLAN’s existing system of discounts with responsible companies will help get the start-up gear campuses need. PLAN staff will remain available during initial phases to troubleshoot the project. As it matures, Campus Coordinators will help ensure that there is proper leadership turnover for any role in the project that is filled by students.
Once the handful of pilot programs are up and running, PLAN staff will interview students and staff on these and any other relevant campuses to build case studies of their successes and challenges. The case studies will be fleshed out into best practices guides for other interested campuses to reference, as well as specific advising for PLAN staff to utilize in the assistance of future campuses’ projects.
How do we know this will work?
Although no college or university campuses have eliminated disposable to-go cups, or implemented comparable programs with reusable ones, we do have an existing proof of concept: reusable to-go containers. Many colleges and universities use hard plastic to-go containers as an alternative to styrofoam in their dining halls. Much like the reusable to-go cup system detailed above, these to-go boxes are checked in and out of dining halls, washed in the dining hall dishwasher, and reused by different students and staff who have opted into the program. PLAN recently developed a best practices guide for campuses that wish to develop systems for reusable to-go food containers, and it has been widely used by our member campuses. See that guide here. A similar guide will result from the development of this project.
2. Proper implementation
PLAN’s extensive experience in supporting students and campuses through the development of other zero-waste projects -- compost programs, thrift stores, move-out programs, waste audits, and more -- mean that we are versed in the multi-stage planning process necessary to make this type of project a success. We already have systems in place for advising students and staff on volunteer recruitment and management, fundraising, budgeting, advertising and marketing, student leadership, and troubleshooting the logistical mishaps. PLAN’s support and advising will ensure that pilot campuses will not jump too hastily into this project without proper planning, marketing, and logistics in place.
How does this system get products to people without generating plastic waste?
The proposed cycle of reusable to-go mugs delivers drinks to consumers without the need for disposable paper cups or plastic lids. While it’s true that at present, most cafes will fill an individual reusable mug when asked (an “opt-in” system), such a model leaves the responsibility on consumers to obtain, bring, and clean their mug. One of PLAN’s missions is to elevate the conversation about zero-waste above this type of individual action. Building a system where reusables are the norm shifts responsibility to cafes and includes everyone. This system bridges the gap between resources available (reusable to-go mugs) and the communities, such as colleges and universities, that can optimize their use.
Why colleges & universities?
Colleges and universities provide the perfect piloting ground for systems such as this for a variety of reasons. Because campuses strive to maintain their image as pioneers of environmental measures, they are incentivized to implement systems such as this one for reusable to-go mugs. Passionate students pressure administrators and communities to make change. The general college population, even if disinterested in environmental issues, is young, adaptable, and impressionable. Furthermore, colleges and universities tend to be managed in a comparatively bureaucratic way, making it feasible to implement this type of top-down infrastructural change.
PLAN is uniquely situated to help pilot a reusable coffee cup system, as well as to amplify tools and strategies for its success to other campuses across the US. Our network of 80+ member campuses, positions us as an authority on campus zero-waste, and our existing resources and advising provide a built-in means of spreading the idea. Our knowledge, experience, and rapport will help us ensure that pilot and future implementations succeed.