Takeout, eco-style

An Ashland High School graduate has created a reusable takeout container that is being used at 200 workplaces and universities nationwide — including Southern Oregon University.

Audrey Copeland, 24, created the Eco-Takeout clamshell container after she was inspired by an environmental studies project at Eckerd College in Saint Petersburg, Fla.

"It's just so exciting to see it go from this idea on paper, to being internationally represented, to being in my hometown," she said last week from her home in Pasadena, Calif.

The containers are designed to help colleges or businesses save money and reduce waste, Copeland said.

SOU officials decided to buy 250 of the containers for the Cascade Dining Area and Stevenson Union as part of their efforts to create a greener campus, said Linda Bahr, the university's general manager of food services.

Because of replacement and dishwashing costs, Bahr doesn't expect the containers will save the university much money, she said. But they should have an environmental benefit.

"I don't think it's going to save us a dime," she said. "It's just an effort to reduce the amount of biodegradable material in the landfill here."

SOU began using the containers this week. The response to the plastic clamshells has been mixed, Bahr said.

"Those who have a passion for recycling and reducing the landfill mass and carbon footprint, they're going to embrace this," she said. "I know that there are some out there that aren't going to."

Some students dislike the fact that the containers are made from plastic and that they must be dropped off in the cafeteria to be washed in a high-heat dishwasher, Bahr said.

Students with meal plans may check one container out at a time for free. Additional containers cost $4.49.

Those who don't want to use the Eco-Takeout containers can still use the cafeteria's compostable to-go containers, Bahr said.

SOU freshman Sarah Anstine, 18, said she thinks switching to the containers is a smart move.

"They're good because they're reusable and they're easy to use," she said. "I want to take care of the environment, but this is like one of the only ways I do it."

Copeland was a student herself when she first came up with the idea of the Eco-Takeout container.

After she graduated in May 2007 from Eckerd College, she submitted a grant proposal to the Environmental Research Foundation, asking for funding to create the containers. The foundation awarded her $32,000 to create a prototype of the container.

"I didn't think I would ever get it funded," she said. "But there was nothing in the marketplace that had all of these specific concepts for design."

G.E.T. Enterprises Inc., a plastic container company, now sells the containers, and Copeland works as the company's sustainable products coordinator.

The containers cost between $3 and $5 each wholesale, according to Copeland, who also works as a sustainability coordinator for Interface Inc., a carpet manufacturing company.

The Eco-Takeouts are made of polypropylene No. 5, which is "considered to be the safest plastic for human use," Copeland said.

Google Corporation, Nestle and more than 100 universities are using the containers, she said.

Copeland's next project also involves reducing waste. She's working with the Pasadena Art Center College of Design to create a new grocery store concept, which involves using reusable containers and bulk food bins, instead of individually packaged items.

Copeland credits her Ashland education with sparking her interest in the environment. She graduated from Ashland High School in 2003.

"I'm very thankful for the education I received in Ashland," she said. "It's a very progressive place and I think a lot of my eco-entrepreneurial leanings come from that."

For more information on the Eco-Takeout containers, see www.ecotakeouts.com.

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456, ext. 226, or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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