This spring, Dining Services is collaborating with the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives, College Council (CC), Thursday Night Group (TNG) and student volunteers to run a pilot program for new environmentally friendly to-go food containers. This fall, reusable tote bags will replace the paper bags offered at Grab ’n’ Go, and reusable eco-shells may replace the disposable containers currently found in all other Paresky Student Center dining venues. The organizers estimate that the College could save up to $10,000 in the first year of switching to the eco-shells alone.
According to Stephanie Boyd, director of the Zilkha Center, and Chris Abayasinghe, assistant director of student dining, both environmental and cost-cutting motivations underlie the changes. Though reusable bags have been introduced at Grab ‘n’ Go three times previously – most recently last year – this newest version differs in that paper bags will no longer be available as an alternative. According to Abayasinghe, Dining Services will decide this May whether the eco-shell program will be ready for implementation; if this spring’s pilot program provides enough data supporting the benefits of the eco-shells, Paresky will also cease to offer disposable boxes.
The eco-shell pilot program currently has roughly 20 participants, and Abayasinghe is meeting with CC members and TNG this week to discuss adding more students to the trial run. According to Abayasinghe, increased pilot participation will give Dining Services a better idea of how successful the program will be.
Boyd noted that the College currently spends $250,000 each year on waste removal, and an audit last year revealed that a large percentage of the trash in Paresky, Williams Hall and Sage is composed of the disposable to-go boxes. According to Abayasinghe, the campus uses roughly 500 of these paper containers each day. Boyd hopes that these changes will work in conjunction with composting and other initiatives to reduce the number of times waste removal services have to visit campus buildings each week.
The proposal for the reusable Grab ’n’ Go tote bag program was organized by Will Slack ’11 and Mopati Morake ’11, and funding for the program will come from CC’s Great Ideas campaign, the Zilkha Center and Dining Services. Dining Services plans to provide 1100 to 1200 of these bags based on the current number of students who patronize Grab ’n’ Go each semester.
The first-year investment of $8000 for the eco-shells will fall dramatically below the current $18,000 the College spends on the Whitmans’, Snack Bar and ’82 Grill throwaway boxes.
Dining Services plans to add $5 to the term bills of those students who want to opt into the eco-shell program. Students who participate will be able to drop off the eco-shells at any dining venue in exchange for a carabiner, which will entitle the student for another eco-shell the next time he or she dines at a Paresky venue. Upon returning the carabiner, students can also receive a term bill refund for their $5.
Abayasinghe and Boyd explained that the program is best suited for the start of the next academic year. “We’ve learned that starting at the beginning of the year is the best time,” Abayasinghe said, noting that the transition to trayless dining was much smoother due its introduction during this year.
Sophie Robinson ’11 was the first to officially communicate to Dining Services the wastefulness of Paresky’s disposable boxes last year after noticing that a large number of students get to-go boxes and then dine inside the building. “We’re a very convenience-oriented society,” Boyd said, acknowledging the basis for this trend.
Abayasinghe and Boyd also both stressed that Dining Services and the Zilkha Center have collaborated on several other projects in the past, including the phase-out of paper goods at large campus events. “We work closely together on many initiatives,” Abayasinghe said. “This is the next step in the process.”
The College has also just hired a new sustainability food coordinator, Katharine Millonzi, who will begin cooperating with Dining Services on April 5. Millonzi will replace Lori van Handel, who vacated the new, grant-funded position after being hired last October.
Additional reporting by Sasha Mironoff, news editor.