COVID-19: Essential Information


How does the program work?

  1. Students will receive a carabiner at the beginning of the year. Firstyears and sophomores will receive them through Res Life, juniors and seniors and sophomores living in Special Interest Houses will receive them in their mailboxes.
  2. Students can then take that carabiner to Proctor, Ross, or Atwater and exchange it for a reusable to-go container.
  3. Students are allowed to then use the container for food to go when they are not able to take their meal in the Dining Hall. Please limit use of the container to one trip through the line or salad bar per visit.
  4. Once the student completes the meal, they rinse the container, then exchange it at the checker stand of any dining hall for either a clean container or another carabiner token. Containers are washed in Dining Service’s industrial dish rooms.
  5. This process repeats for as long as the student wishes to use the to-go program.

How do I get a carabiner?

Firstyears and sophomores will receive them through Res Life, juniors and seniors and sophomores living in Special Interest Houses will receive them in their mailboxes.

What do the carabiners look like?

For scale: this is slightly smaller than a college ID card. The silver part is a clip! THey may be blue or silver.

 What do the containers look like?

These containers are 9’’x9’’x3’’

What are the motives for implementing this program?

This program is designed to improve campus sustainability by decreasing waste in the dining halls and reducing resource consumption. We hope to provide a safe, healthy, and environmentally-friendly to-go program that accounts for student needs and provides maximum convenience to staff, students, and members of the community.

What is the reasoning behind the switch?

Dining currently spends roughly $27,156 a year to buy over 180,000 disposable containers, many of which are never successfully composted. This amounts to a very significant resource use and waste impact. By buying a much smaller number of reusable to-go boxes, Dining Services can save money and promote sustainability on Middlebury’s campus.

Who has been working on this?

This program was first proposed by Office of Sustainability Integration interns. These students worked with the Office of Sustainability Integration and Dining Services to research possible sustainable to-go options and then consulted with a focus group to improve the proposal. The group then brought the idea to SGA, the SGA Environmental Affairs Committee and Community Council for comments and ideas. The SGA passed a bill, "Dining Hall Sustainability: Reusable Containers" that provided support for the initiative.

What has been the process for developing the program so far?

In September of 2018, we started this process by reaching out to Dining Services about the program and researching similar to-go options at other schools. We then contacted students and staff at Dartmouth and Union Colleges to learn even more about their to-go programs. In November, we implemented a two week trial period with 20 students from across Middlebury’s social groups and performed a focus group to hear their feedback on the program. The Sustainability interns and Dining Services refined the proposal multiple times and finally took it to SGA for approval. The SGA passed the bill "Dining Hall Sustainability: Reusable Containers" after three weeks of public comments and discussion about the containers. Sustainability interns then attended two more weeks of public comments at SGA and fielded questions over facebook and email. They performed additional research to address new concerns on the issue and spoke with Dining Services about how to ensure that students’ needs were met. The next step in this process is an ongoing education campaign to inform students on the program and a trial period of the new containers, which will last until the end of the Spring semester.

How will the program impact staff?

Dining Services staff report that they are excited about the new program and ready to handle it, while Recycling Staff project a significant decrease in work and stress since they will no longer need to re-sort or handle the disposable containers. The carabiner/container exchange will be performed by the Dining Hall Checker when students enter a dining hall.

What is are the environmental impacts of the new containers compared with the old containers?

The new containers can be used up to 2000 times before being recycled, while old containers were used once before being thrown away. While sugarcane containers may seem more sustainable on an individual basis, it is important to note that Dining Services was buying over 180,000 thousand of them per year. Furthermore, these containers were often not composted due to waste sorting inefficiencies and the containers’ long break-down time. While the new containers are made from plastic, Dining Services will only have to buy 2,000 of them in the first year and even smaller numbers to replace lost containers in future years. The containers will last for many years and then can be recycled into new plastic products or similar containers when they are worn out. Overall, this charge represents a large reduction in resource consumption through production and transportation of disposable containers as well as a sharp decrease in dining hall waste. The reusable program will have an estimated carbon footprint ⅛ the size of the disposable system in the first year alone.

What is the financial impact of this program?

We estimate that this program will save Dining Services $12,000 in the first year, with savings up to $20,000 in future years. This money will be reinvested into Dining programs. While students do have to pay a $5 deposit to join the program, this charge is returned to their declining balance when they return their carabiner. See below for more information regarding the $5 deposit.

What will the money saved go towards?

When Dining saves money on a new program, they reinvest their savings into other programs that benefit students. Examples would include the new Nutella in the dining halls and the declining balance on our ID cards! The savings from this program will go towards similar student-friendly dining efforts. We think this is particularly exciting because instead of paying thousands of dollars on something that is thrown out after one use, Dining will be investing more of its funds in tasty and nutritious student benefits!

Can I microwave the new containers?

Yes! The containers are microwave safe for reheating!

What kind of plastic is used in the new containers?

The containers are made from #5 recyclable plastic. They are made from polypropylene, are BPA free, and do not contain styrene. They are NSF approved and safe for 2000 washes. After they run through 2000 washes, they are designed to be recycled into new containers or other similar plastic products.

I’m worried about personal convenience!

In developing this program, we have attempted to maximize personal convenience for students. We first did a pilot program to test the process with diverse students from across campus activities and social circles, and have since been accepting student feedback at SGA open forums and other discussions. We really hope all this research will help the program be convenient for you! It’s important to note, however, that we are still trying to improve the program! The current implementation plan will allow for a reassessment period after the end of the spring semester, during which Dining Services will work on improving the program’s effectiveness. We’d love to have you be part of that process. After trying the program, please fill out our feedback form to let us know how we can make the program more convenient for you! We know that change can be difficult and new habits are sometimes frustrating to develop, but we really hope you will like what we’ve come up with once you try it out!

I have a question not on this list!

Send an email to

I already bought a carabiner last year.

Students who already purchased a carabiner will be receiving a second one free of charge in the fall of 2019. Unfortunately, students will no longer be able to get their deposits back.