Recycling machines implemented to aid USF food pantries

The “reverse” vending machines accept up to 900 plastic bottles and aluminum cans to be collected and recycled every two weeks, or until full. ORACLE PHOTO/ALEXANDRA URBAN

Students can now support the university’s food pantries by recycling an empty plastic bottle or aluminum can in any of six Coca-Cola recycling machines on campus.

Divided between the Tampa and St. Pete campuses, the “reverse” vending machines were strategically dispersed in areas with a lot of foot traffic from students, according to Auxiliary Services Director Nancy Santiago.

The Tampa campus has four of the machines which are in Cooper Hall, The Hub, Juniper-Poplar Hall and the Marshall Student Center. The remaining two are located at the St. Pete campus at the University Student Center and Bayboro/Davis Breezeway.

As of now, the Sarasota-Manatee campus will not participate in the efforts because of its low student population and the limited availability of machines, Santiago said.

The university partnered with Coca-Cola Beverages Florida to provide the machines in support of Coca-Cola’s “World Without Waste” initiative, helping achieve one of their aims to collect and recycle every bottle or can they sell globally by 2030. Also, USF’s Feed-A-Bull Food Pantry will receive 5 cents for every plastic bottle or aluminum can recycled.

The machines have a capacity of about 900 bottles, according to Santiago. Unless the machines meet their container quota before scheduled pick-ups, the campuses’ respective food pantries will collect the recycled materials every two weeks. This timeline will likely be adjusted based on the average rate they are being filled.

Empty cans or plastic bottles, regardless of brand, will be accepted by the machines before being crushed and stored. The machines reject anything that doesn’t meet its requirements, such as glass bottles, according to Santiago.

Student Government (SG) was responsible for creating the campus survey in summer 2021 that elected Feed-A-Bull Pantry to be the beneficiary of the initiative, according to Santiago.

“We partnered with Student Government, with [Student Body Vice President] Jillian Wilson, in particular, to try to get her support from [SG] to push through the sustainability efforts and send out that message to the student community,” she said. “Jillian was very helpful in creating the survey for us to identify where the funds should go in the first place.”

In an effort to devise a plan to spread awareness about the machines, Auxiliary Services partnered with SG and University Communications and Marketing.

“We’re trying to build as much momentum as possible and spread the word within the university community so that students, faculty and staff can all use machines to recycle their products,” Santiago said.

Coca-Cola opted out of their traditional red and white design in favor of a co-branded aesthetic for the machines. Instead, the machines are in the uniform green and gold and equipped with the Feed-A-Bull Pantry and SG logos.

“We wanted to make sure that it wasn’t [these] red and white machines plastered all over campus with the Coca-Cola brand all over it,” Santiago said. “Coca-Cola did create the design for us. And so we just went through [University Communications and Marketing and USF Facilities Management] to get their approval.”

While the machines are still new to campus, Santiago is optimistic about the turnout and the potential addition of more in the future.

“If we see that there’s this huge drive behind it, and the machines keep getting called and/or we see a significant need in another location, we can always go back to [Coca-Cola] and see what we can work out,” she said.