Melbourne University dishes up sustainable options

reusable dishes

The University of Melbourne has diverted more than 400,000 items from landfill with its recently relaunched Choose to Reuse program.

The Choose to Reuse program encourages food retailers on the university site to use reusable dishes, cups and cutlery, which diners can then leave at designated drop off stations when finished.

Dishes are then collected and washed by a dedicated cleaning team in an industrial dishwasher before being put back into circulation.

The university estimates its Union House food court decreased its waste to landfill by 30 per cent during the first six months of the program’s operation.

Sue Hopkins, Sustainability Manager at The University of Melbourne, said the ongoing success of the program has been driven in part by students’ enthusiasm and their expectation of food vendors – who also stand to benefit financially from the project.

“One of the tenants said to me that they can spend up to $100,000 a year on disposable packaging. That is just one tenancy,” she said.

The university recently partnered with Sustainability Victoria to host a Choose to Reuse Masterclass to help other universities, food hall and market operators integrate similar programs ahead of the Victorian Government’s ban on single-use plastics.

Single-use plastic plates, cutlery, straws, drink stirrers, cotton bud sticks and expanded polystyrene food and beverage containers will all be banned in Victoria from 1 February 2023, following similar bans across Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland, and soon New South Wales.

Hopkins believes the Choose to Reuse model could be adapted to almost any setting, and said the university is investigating mobile dishwashing solutions for outdoor events.

“I would say that this scheme is so scalable. You could start with one retailer, you could have a whole precinct, you can start with one item… it is completely and utterly transferrable.”

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