New reusable dish service promises to take out disposable takeout containers at UAlberta

DishZero, a reusable takeout container service, launches Jan. 16 at two university restaurants

It’s about to get easier for UAlberta students, faculty, staff and food vendors to cut waste from disposable takeout containers.


DishZero, a reusable takeout container program, will launch on Jan. 16 at two restaurants in the Students Union Building (SUB): Filistix and The Daily Grind


A student-led initiative, DishZero has been years in the making and promises to change how the campus community dines. 


“The way DishZero works is simple,” said Rojine McVea, one of the program’s founders and a recent Bachelor of Science in Immunology and Infection graduate. “You go to your vendor of choice, right now either Filistix or Daily Grind, and ask them if you can have your meal in a DishZero container.


“They give you your food in one of our containers, and, using your phone, you scan the QR sticker on the container to sign it out. You then have 48 hours to return it to a DishZero collection station located next to the garbage, recycling and compost bins wherever DishZero is operating.”


First-time users of the program will be prompted to sign in to DishZero using a UAlberta Google account, and they will need a UAlberta email address and Campus Computing ID (CCID) to register. 


DishZero currently has 250 clamshell-style polypropylene takeout containers and, during the winter term, will use 50 of its 800 mugs. All of the containers were chosen for their ability to withstand multiple washes and because they can be recycled with Terracycle. Users of the program can take these items outside of the cafeterias and off campus as long as the items are returned within the two-day window.

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DishZero container and mug. Photos by Rojine McVea.

If the pilot project succeeds, DishZero will expand to other locations around campus.


Rojine said that both she and co-founder Alesi Muhlbauer have long been passionate about the “unglamorous” world of waste reduction.


“Alesi and I would bring glass dishes in our backpacks and ask campus restaurants to serve us food in them,” she said. “It was annoying and clunky, and if you think about concepts like psychological reinforcement, I was not reinforced to continue that behaviour whatsoever. So we thought: if reusable containers are integrated and easy to access, people will be interested in making those lifestyle changes. 


“I also hope it will get vendors thinking about their social and environmental responsibility. If you create that much garbage, do you have a solution to also dispose of it correctly?”

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DishZero founders from left to right: Ashley Krehut, Allegra Martel, Rojine McVea and Alesi Muhlbauer


In 2019, when McVea and Muhlbauer began their mission to get a reusable takeout container program running, they learned that the Engineering Students Society had a similar program for sharing mugs, and the two groups decided to merge and become DishZero. 


Since then McVea and Muhlbauer, along with fellow co-founders Allegra Martel, Ashley Krehut and a number of dedicated volunteers and mentors, have made agreements with building managers across campus to allow food vendors to adopt the program. 


“We ran a survey in the summer of 2021, and the results regarding whether people would use DishZero were extremely positive so I'm curious to see how the in-person response compares,” said co-founder Alesi Muhlbauer. “I'm also excited to see how our waste diversion impact grows as the program expands. Our plan is to publish regular impact reports to show people how well DishZero is working as a waste reduction program.”


"The DishZero team faced many obstacles along the way to making this program a reality, but we are so excited to be launching and getting the word out,” said co-founder Allegra Martel. 


McVea’s work on DishZero became her capstone, integrative project for the Certificate in Sustainability


McVea said that she will continue to oversee the project’s early days, but because she has graduated, DishZero’s management will eventually be left up to new students. She hopes students’ passion for the project continues to grow in the coming months and years.


“We want students to have the credit for coming up with this idea, as they were the ones pushing for it,” she said.


A launch party for DishZero will be held in SUB on Jan. 16 from 12-3 p.m.. It will include free Filistix meals and Daily Grind coffee.