Green Campus Spotlight: Mug Runners—Rescuing reusable drinking containers from the landfill since summer 2013
Author: Campus Sustainability Office
Posted: October 31, 2013

You’ve probably seen them: those red bins in PSU computer lab entrances where users can safely store their beverages while working on a computer. But what happens if people forget to claim their mug or water bottle when they leave? Containers are held for 24 hours in computer labs, but if still unclaimed they are thrown away, ultimately to end up in the landfill

That was the fate for loads of reusable drink containers before the Mug Runners came along. The idea—initially proposed by Emily Waters, a student in the PSU EcoReps residence halls sustainability leadership program—was to rescue these abandoned yet reusable drinking containers, sanitize them, and redistribute them through the PSU Reuse Room. This summer, PSU’s Reuse Coordinator Thea Kindschuh, Take Back the Tap’s campus leader Emma Pritchard, and representatives from the Office of Information Technology (OIT) met to brainstorm a process for the program, now known as Mug Runners. 

According to staff from the OIT-managed computer labs, 2-5 reusable drinking containers are left unclaimed in each lab location on a typical night. This number can approximately double to 5-10 during busy times such as midterms and finals. Multiply that by four major OIT computer labs, and the number of perfectly usable mugs and water bottles being thrown away on a daily basis is pretty alarming. These containers are designed to last, and not only do they require natural resources to produce, but will sit in landfills for a long time when “thrown away”.

Staff and volunteers from the Reuse Room and Take Back the Tap are now collecting and washing abandoned containers from the Millar Library lab, the pilot location, with plans to expand collection to Neuberger and Broadway labs this winter. 

“I believe the initiative of this program helps the campus and community by providing valuable resources and preventing mounting waste, and OIT is happy to be a part of it,” says Steven Murschel, Millar Library 115’s student coordinator. 

What’s more, demand for the reused containers is brisk. “They are continually taken within a day or two of being put in the Reuse Room, with customers asking when more will be available if shelves are empty,” says Kindschuh. “People are loving it.”

With volumes collected and redistributed slated to increase as Mug Runners expands to additional labs, the team hopes to further institutionalize the program for long term success while promoting a culture of reuse and waste reduction at PSU. Taylor Ellsworth, Neuberger Labs Manager sums up the experience so far: “It's exciting for OIT to get a chance to connect and collaborate with the Campus Sustainability Office on this initiative to establish a greener campus for all.”

Our thanks and appreciation go out to OIT, the Reuse Room, Take Back the Tap, and EcoReps for your creative thinking and successful collaboration to make PSU a model of sustainability.

Campus Sustainability Office