Each time a student enjoys a latte, tea or other hot beverage on campus, they are confronted with a choice: to use a single-use disposable cup or a reusable mug.
A student–designed pilot program, Project MUG, aims to prevent waste generated by single-use cups by offering reusable mugs to students who purchase coffee and other hot beverages on campus.
The founders of the project estimated that Western Washington University threw away 395,000 single-use cups in 2012. As a result, the university spent approximately $22,000 to handle the waste.
Senior Lauren Murphy, one of the three original founders, said Project MUG aims to make reusable mugs a more convenient option for students at a variety of cafes across campus.
The system is simple: participants are given MUG cards that they exchange for the reusable mugs so it is easy to monitor how many mugs are in use and who has them.
This quarter, Murphy estimates about 50 students are participating in the program.
“You do whatever you want with the mug, and bring it back [to the Viking Union] whenever you want,” Murphy said.
Madalynn Gavigan Martin, fond of chai lattes and white chocolate mochas, is a Project MUG participant. She estimates that she buys coffee on campus two to three times a week.
“I love it so far,” Gavigan Martin said. “It’s an insulated mug that keeps my beverage hot or cold for the entire day.”
Martin would rather go without her coffee to save the waste generated by a single-use cup, she said.
“On Monday mornings they are doing a Project MUG promotion, so the first 10 people who [use Project MUG] get a dollar off of their beverage,” she said.
The idea for the program originated from an environmental studies class called Campus Sustainability Planning Studio. Murphy and two other students decided to take their class project and apply for a Green Energy Fee small grant in winter quarter 2013. The pilot stage of the program began in late March 2013.
Currently, Project MUG operates only out of the Viking Union Cafe.
“Our ultimate goal for this quarter is to have dining services take over the program in January,” Murphy said.
Regan Clover, the Green Energy Fee grant coordinator, has acted as a liaison to help further communication between the student team behind Project MUG and the stakeholder, University Dining Services.
If dining services was to adopt the program, Project MUG would expand campus-wide, which would require a new business plan, Clover said.
The adoption of the program would have to be cost effective for dining services, she said. The original 144 mugs were purchased with a small grant from the Green Energy Fee amounting to $1,926, but to go campus-wide, dining services would need to purchase more mugs, Clover said.
“Dining services loves the sustainable aspect of the program," Clover said. "They love that it’s reducing paper cup waste."
In quarterly meetings, the student group and dining services have decided what aspects of the program work and what aspects need to be modified to ensure the smooth operation of Project MUG.
Last quarter, the two parties decided to institute a sign–out sheet to better track mug usage, Clover said.
Participants sign a contract, which is available online, that says they will return any borrowed mug before the end of the pilot and if the mug is damaged or lost, they will cover the $15 fee to have it replaced.
The program has struggled from the lack of awareness around campus, but with the help of dining services, marking staff and the fall quarter info fair, Project MUG has been able to attract more participants than in the first two quarters of the program’s operation, Murphy said.
“Our main goal is to spread the word about it,” Murphy said.
Project MUG also struggles to reach the entirety of the student population because it is based in the Viking Union Cafe which make it inconvenient for people who spend most of their time on south campus, Murphy said.
This is Murphy’s last quarter Western and she is hopeful that dining services will pick up where the pilot leaves off, she said.