Ozzi Reusable Containers from Husker Heroes on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019, in Cather Hall on UNL's city campus in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Reusable food containers are now available in Husker Heroes locations as a sustainable alternative to paper bags after the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska Environmental Sustainability Committee proposed the idea last April. 

The OZZI containers, which can be used for soup or sandwiches, are available to purchase for $3 a piece at Husker Heroes in Abel and Willa Cather Dining Centers. University Dining Services director Dave Annis said students can use NCards, cash or debit or credit cards to purchase the containers. 

Students who purchase containers can use them and then return them to Husker Heroes in exchange for a clean one. The old container will then be cleaned and given to another student, according to Annis.

“We are very much looking for ways to make dining more sustainable,” he said. “We have three or four different initiatives going on, but this was really pretty quick and simple and something we wanted to do anyway.”

Annis said the containers will not be placed in the Selleck Dining Center Husker Heroes because the food there is already pre-packaged.

The containers mostly eliminate the need for paper bags, he said, but can also be used to eliminate the containers for chicken baskets at the Abel Husker Heroes.  

According to Annis, about 500 containers have been used on East Campus since the start of the fall semester at the new dining center in the Nebraska East Union, but the containers on City Campus were placed at Husker Heroes recently. 

President of Sustain UNL and junior fisheries and wildlife major Brittni McGuire said she is pleased with the efforts Dining Services has made to be more environmentally friendly. She said it is a good step in creating a culture of sustainability on campus, and she hopes people take advantage of the sustainable option. 

“I think having those reusable containers at those places is kind of like almost a daily reminder for those people to choose one thing in their life that they can make more sustainable,” McGuire said. “I'm a big believer that sustainability is very broad and means something different to each individual. All we have to do is each pick one thing that we're going to work on. I think Dining has done a really good job of picking.” 

OZZI containers are not the only sustainable initiative Dining Services is currently working on, Annis said. Around fall break, a biodigester will be placed in Selleck Dining Center. The biodigester will take food scraps and turn them into gray water, so Dining will have less solid food waste to dispose of, Annis said. 

“Selleck, at least, will be hauling little or no food scraps and food waste to the landfill,” he said. “The digestor has a way of weighing the amount of food that goes in, so we can start keeping a daily track of food waste.” 

If all goes well, the biodigester may be something Dining Services implements in other dining halls, Annis said.

Tracking food waste is a big part of the third sustainability minded project Dining Services is working on. Leanpath, according to Annis, is a system that uses scales to measure the amount of food being prepared and the amount of food waste coming back on the conveyor belt students return their dishes to. He said this should help Dining Services better predict how much food to prepare to be more efficient and waste less.

The system will come with LeanPath Spark, a digital display that will show the weight of post-consumer waste and how that relates to the overall carbon footprint, according to Annis. He said LeanPath should be installed in all of the dining centers by January. 

“We also want to get students actively involved in not wasting food,” he said. “The less food gets thrown away, the less food waste, the less cost there is to us, the less need to increase meal plan rates.” 

Annis said he hopes students notice the effort to be more sustainable, and Dining Services is always looking for suggestions on how it can be more environmentally conscious. 

“I would hope that students look at some of the initiatives with fresh eyes,” he said. “They will begin to see a lot more of this publicly with the LeanPath and the Spark screens. We haven't really done a lot or a very good job of letting students know what we do and how they can help. We're certainly, 100%, looking for student input.”