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ROI at Faber College: How to Drive Environmental & Economic ROI with your Reusable Container Program

Updated: Oct 6, 2022

In the last few months, I’ve had the great pleasure of diving into the world of higher ed dining. The various food service providers (FSPs), like Aramark. The many student card account systems–shoutout to Transact. Everything but the kitchen sink–and actually that too, on occasion. What I’ve really learned is that like most things in this world, scholastic dining services are businesses with P&Ls, large labor forces (and shortages), and rising costs of goods.

Some days I speak to 3-4 Directors of Dining for schools of various sizes. They expect me to pitch them on the environmental benefits of transitioning to reusable packaging in lieu of single-use. This could be at dining halls, retail locations, or both. I could be pollyannaish and believe that a school would of course make this transition because it is the right thing to do environmentally.

It is, to be clear, but if that was enough, circular systems would live everywhere, not just in PhD theses. At Topanga we’re making reusable programs a reality for colleges across the country (and brands too!) by showing them the economic impact that a reuse program can have on their bottom line.

The ROI of replacing disposable takeout boxes with reusable containers

In this post, I’ll give a high-level overview of an ROI we executed previously for a school that we’ll name Faber College. If you run a dining program and you got that reference, reach out to me and we’ll do a complimentary ROI analysis for you. If you didn’t get that reference, we’ll still do it :).

While economic ROI is achievable through high reuse rates, almost all schools we speak with choose to add accountability to their program by charging students for unreturned containers. For this scenario, Faber College will charge students a $3.12 fee for every unreturned container, effectively recouping the full cost of the packaging.

Faber College Assumptions:

Student Population: 16,000 (4000 students on a meal plan–this will be our active customer base)

Transactions per month per student: 8.75

Estimated Single Use Packaging (SUP) Costs: $.40

SUP Volume per month: 35,000 = 4000 students * 8.75 transactions.

Additional dishwashing & labor: $.08 each time a container goes out to a student

Cost of reusable clamshell + QR Code: $3.12

Okay, now that we’ve set the stage. Let’s take a look here on what this yields Faber College.

  • Month 1: Initial upfront purchase of $38,220 for the reusable containers to get this program off the ground, but you're saving $14,000 that you would have spent on SUP that month. Accounting for dishwashing, labor, and a few elements my CEO wouldn’t allow me to share, Faber College is in the red $14,420 for the first month. Sucks, but let’s give this program a bit more time to show us what it can do.

  • Month 2: With the big purchase out of the way and again accounting for unreturned containers, replacing said containers, washing, and labor, Faber College is saving $10,122/month on a Topanga-managed reuse program. We haven’t broken even yet, but we’re getting there.

  • Month 3: Somewhere between 60 and 90 days into this reuse program, Faber College breaks even and starts counting the money while saving approximately 85k pieces of packaging that would have most likely ended up in a landfill otherwise.

  • Month 6: Savings have totaled $36,193.

  • Month 9: Marking the full academic calendar year for most schools, Faber will save $66,561 and close to 315,000 pieces of single-use packaging from being used.

  • Month 18: Now this is the fun part. SinceTopanga's software keeps Faber’s containers in circulation and effectively manages their inventory to enable the highest utilization possible, the school only has to make that big purchase ONCE. By the end of the 2nd academic year of a Topanga-managed reuse program, Faber will have saved $167,000 and somewhere in the neighborhood of 600,000 pieces of SUP from being used.

If you are interested in receiving a complimentary ROI analysis, please schedule a time here and we’d be happy to show you the economic (and environmental) benefits to a Topanga-managed reuse program.

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