The end of free refills

The Otter Student Union (OSU) and Otter Express are two of the most popular dining establishments on California State University, Monterey Bay’s (CSUMB) campus. At both locations, students can use their dining dollars to purchase meals or use a meal exchange for certain items on the menu. 

Included in the meal exchange is typically an entree, a side and a fountain drink which could be refilled unlimitedly. However, when students realized that they could no longer refill their fountain drinks and would have to pay for drinks, chaos ensued. 

The technology introduced in the OSU and Otter Express is ValidFill, a company that works in amusement parks, hotels and college campuses. Valid Fill uses Radio Frequency Identification tags (RFID) to regulate the amount of refills per cup. These are the little stickers that are now on the bottom of the disposable cups that are given to students. 

With the RFID tags, the soda machines limit each student to one fill from the machine. If a student tries to refill their disposable cup, the machine will notify the user that they have zero refills left.

Students at CSUMB have noticed this change and are upset that the school is restricting something as small as soda. “This whole refill thing is a disgrace,” Matthew Lane commented on MyRaft. “Why are they squeezing every penny out of the students?” 

The climate in the CSU system is tense with the recent vote to increase tuition, so why are new policies being introduced? Chartwell handles food servicing at CSUMB. According to Robbie Dickinson, Chartwell’s district manager, ValidFill was “chosen for CSUMB as a way to reduce the number of paper cups going to the landfill.” This policy fits in with CSUMB’s sustainability plan to divert 90% of waste from landfill. 

CSUMB has also introduced Smart Cup as a solution that allows students to get unlimited refills. The cups are $10 and refilling this cup costs $1.50. If a student wants to buy unlimited refills for the semester, they can pay $44.95. Paying nearly $45 for something that used to be free seems like quite the price jump. However, in the long run, this is saving students money. Dickinson reports the math, “If a student purchases a one-time drink, it costs them $1.75. The Validfill program allows students unlimited access to beverages for $44.95 per semester, which is a $152.80 savings [than] if they were to purchase one beverage per day.” 

Students have voiced their opinions about the quality of the soft drinks ever since the introduction of ValidFill. “Get the unlimited refills they said, it’ll be worth it, they said. Forty-four dollars is not worth it for watery Diet Coke,” said Aaron De Salvio. Anthony Cervantes questions, “Is this why the sodas are all watered down and the lemonade is non-existent?” Dickinson told the Lutrinae that “there has been no change to the quality of the fountain beverage products that are dispensed by any of the machines on campus.” 

It is unclear why free refills are no longer available. Before ValidFill was set up, free refills were available; however, now that ValidFill is up and running, “only students on the Beverage plan are eligible for free refills,” Dickinson explains. To get free refills, students will now have to pay for a beverage plan in addition to their meal plan. 

As of now, the Dining Commons is still without ValidFill and students can get free soda with a meal swipe. Dickinson says the goal of ValidFill is to “reduce the volume of disposable cups being generated by the food service program.” Hopefully, this will be successful and CSUMB will ultimately produce less waste, but it is at the cost of taking away something from students. 

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