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How to Implement a Reusables Program on Your Campus

Interested in implementing reusables on your campus but overwhelmed with where to begin? In this blog, we lay out all the back-end work needed to start a reusables program at your campus––from identifying your dining model(s) and understanding current inventories, to speaking with the right stakeholders and leveraging marketing support. After reading this blog, you’ll have a clear understanding of the specific steps you need to take to be able to launch a reusables program for your next semester. Feel free to print this checklist out below to kickstart your journey towards reusables!

reusable containers with QR codes horizontally stacked on a shelf

Reusables Program Implementation Checklist:

Operations & Infrastructure

▢ Compile a list of all dining locations and their specific order flows + dining models.

Dining models are often thought of as residential or retail, but we like to get specific in terms of operating models. Specific models might include: 1) pay/swipe to enter, 2) pay to exit, 3) pay at station, 4) order ahead via mobile ordering, and 5) grab and go. When identifying your specific dining model(s), some questions to help guide you include 1) how does the student pay?, 2) are there cashiers or is it checkoutless?, and 3) is there a central dishwashing location or multiple locations?

Costs and ROI

▢ Assess your current packaging inventory and spend for single-use, disposable packaging (including compostables).

▢ Identify how much of your current operating budget has been allocated to missing plates, cups, bowls, mugs, and silverware.

▢ If you currently have a reusables program, begin measuring your return rates. Are you having to purchase new containers every semester? If so, how many?

▢ If you currently have a reusables program, how is that program funded? What is the budgeting cycle like for that program?

▢ If you don’t have an existing reusables program, how are sustainability initiatives funded at your campus? Is it by a green fund, a grant fund, etc.?

Important note: If you currently have a reusables program with existing packaging, don’t worry! Topanga’s ReusePass reusables program is packaging agnostic, meaning you can use whatever packaging you’d like! We chose to be packaging agnostic as it is the most eco-friendly option––if your campus had a previous reusables program, then you can simply continue to use your existing packaging alongside our track-and-trace technology.

Stakeholder Support

▢ Identify "quiet champions" across the sustainability office and dining and auxiliary services.

▢ Speak with dining staff at retail/residential locations.

The sustainability office will be focused on the program’s forecasted impact, while the dining and auxiliary services will be more focused on the program’s cost savings and operational ease. Topanga’s dashboard provides solutions for both through a real-time view of your program’s impact featuring key success metrics, inventory levels, return rates, and more. It also provides transparency and actionable insights on program performance, and its impact reporting brings your data to life.

Learn the details of your staff’s day-to-day so you can understand their current tech usage/comfortability levels, any daily frustrations or improvement areas, and how adopting a new program would directly impact them.

Marketing & Program Education

▢ Do you have a dedicated marketing team?

▢ What channels (email, social media, etc.) does your campus use for new program education and campus updates for students? What specific social media channels?

Topanga offers extensive marketing support to help your campus successfully launch your program, educate students, and increase usage over time. This includes everything from branded sign-up/how-to posters, floor decals, and return-bin signage, to broader program education and announcement emails.

Student Body Participation

▢ Do you have dedicated student employees at dining locations?

▢ Do you have existing ambassadorships for campus programs?

Student employees serve as both your target audience and the to-be operators of a new reusables program and therefore can offer a plethora of knowledge when it comes to program adoption tips that incorporate both user viewpoints.

Topanga has a campus ambassador program at all of our campuses where students passionate about making a positive impact on the environment can help evangelize reducing resource consumption and minimizing waste. As zero-waste advocates, Topanga campus ambassadors are your reusables program’s biggest champions. They spread the word of the program through marketing and student engagement efforts, inspire fellow students about the circular economy through environmental education, and help us improve ReusePass through gathering student feedback.


Have any follow up questions? Feel free to send them our way. We’d be more than happy to answer them and help you along your journey towards reusables.

Ready to launch a reusables program on your campus?

Schedule a call with us to learn how a ReusePass reusables program could work on your campus.

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