USD introduces Sustain-A-Bottle to campus


When returning  students went to order a soft drink for the first time this semester, many of them were shocked and confused by a seemingly overnight change.

University of San Diego’s Auxiliary Services almost entirely eliminated the typical Coca-Cola paper cups on campus. They introduced a system that encourages the purchase of a special USD bottle called the Sustain-A-Bottle. What many students do not know about this change is that it was a well thought out three-year plan.

The Sustain-A-Bottle program allows students to purchase reusable bottles that have Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips in them. The new system lets students refill their Sustain-A-Bottles at any USD dining location.

Although RFID technology has been around since the late 1940s, the modern day chip is a state of the art technology that is most commonly known for its use in festival wristbands, such as at Coachella, Stagecoach, and KAABOO.

To establish the system, Auxiliary Services had to acquire both the new bottles and new Coca-Cola Freestyle machines. Loryn Johnson, Auxiliary Services’ marketing director, stated that acquiring and installing the technology was one of the longest parts of implementing USD’s new Sustain-A-Bottle program.

“It’s been awhile coming because of the technology components.” Johnson said. “When we heard about it, we liked the sustainability side of it, but, at the time, we didn’t have all the Freestyle machines on campus. Ultimately, we decided we need to put the machines in all the dining facilities to make it really work.”

These bottles were introduced at a starting price of $9.99 plus tax. This standard package includes the bottle and two refills. USD also offers optional plans to add 10 refills for an additional $12.99 and unlimited refills for the semester for an additional $29.99.

Many students were baffled at the change, possibly due to the fact that it would cost them a combined $39.99 for their first semester to drink from the soda machines. Anticipating that this would cause a bit of distress,  USD Auxiliary Services urged students to look at the numbers. A student will only need to refill his or her bottle 15 times to cover the cost of the bottle.

Along with the new bottles, USD added all new soda dispensers. The previous soda dispensers in the Student Life Pavilion held approximately eight drinks. Over the last year, USD has completely replaced its vending machines to include a Coca-Cola Freestyle system with over 140 possible flavor combinations. The new machines not only offer more sodas, but also contain over 70 flavored waters and low-calorie drinks. They also feature an enhanced water filtration system.

A huge reason for the switch to this all new drink system was the idea of sustainability. The idea for the Sustain-A-Bottle program was developed solely by Auxiliary Services, but they have utilized USD’s Office of Sustainability to help promote the idea. Auxiliary Services said that it believes that the bottles may save hundreds of cups from going into the landfill.

The new bottle is not the only new technology involved with USD’s beverage system. The dispensing machines themselves have new technology that make their dispensing packages more sustainable than the previous dispensing systems. The previous system pumped water and carbonation through flavor bags that took up more space and were less efficient. The addition of the new system allows for USD to offer more beverage selections at a higher quality.

USD Auxiliary Services confirmed that only students with required meal plans will be given a free bottle. This means that any freshman or sophomore living on campus this year will receive a bottle, as well as any junior or senior with a required meal plan. For the following years, Auxiliary Services explained that every USD student with a required meal plan will receive a free bottle, as long as they have not already received one in a previous year. Auxiliary Services stressed the importance of getting the bottles into the hands of students to establish the bottle as part of USD’s culture.

“It was really important to get it into the hands of the first year students,” Johnson said. “Because that way it becomes part of the culture, and they don’t know anything differently.”

The three year development of this project was a lengthy process to plan. Auxiliary Services worked with Whirley drinks, Validfill, and Coca-Cola to develop the strategy. The company, who already has a connection with Coca-Cola, USD’s drink provider, worked with Auxiliary Services to make the transition as beneficial as possible.

Auxiliary Services made sure that the bottles could stand up to the day-to-day activities of USD student life. They also had students test the bottles before the bottles were introduced on campus. USD Auxiliary Services mentioned that it has had several returns due to product malfunctions but has given replacements out to those that have brought them back. Senior Kevin Natenstedt bought the new Sustain-A-Bottle but questions the quality of the bottle. Despite his concerns, however, he thinks the program is a great idea.

“The bottle itself doesn’t seem to be of great quality,” Natenstedt said. “But I like the idea. I think there is a lot that can be done with the idea moving forward too.”

One foreseeable problem of these bottles is that there is no link between the bottle and the student and many students are now carrying identical bottles. Unfortunately, USD does not currently have the technology to link the RFID chip to each student account. If a student loses the bottle or has it stolen, there is no way to trace it back to a student or have the refills transferred to a new bottle. USD Auxiliary Services does understand this flaw but has reported only one bottle being turned in after being lost.

Currently, USD has sold or given out approximately 1,700 bottles on campus. Auxiliary Services estimated they would have about 2,500 bottles on campus by the end of this year if all students eligible to receive a free bottle picked one up. With an average incoming class of over 1,000 students per year, USD could have over 3,500 bottles on campus come next year, cutting down on its landfill impact significantly.

Auxiliary Services is preparing its first major report to show students how sustainable the bottles are. When asked if USD would ever consider going back disposable cups, Johnson said she did not believe USD would ever move back in that direction.

“I can’t see USD going back to disposable wear,” Johnson said. “If there is something else better down the road we might switch it up.”

Despite the seeming confusion over the new system, as a campus community, USD has not changed how much it is consuming through the drink machines. The current technology USD has is state of the art, and the future possibilities for the school are not all known yet. With USD becoming one of the first West Coast schools with this technology, one thing is for certain, USD is again ahead of the curve when it comes to change, and everyone is watching to see the outcome.

Written by Kevin Nelson, News Editor