Reuseable to-go boxes save Dining Services $18,000

Dining Services has replaced the to-go containers in campus dining halls with new, reusable plastic eco-containers as part of a larger campus-wide initiative to pursue sustainability at the College. The new eco-container program will save the College $18,000 previously spent annually on paper boxes.

The eco-containers are available at Whitmans’ upon filling out a $4 chit. The money will be added to students’ term bills to be refunded at the end of the year upon the students’ final return of the containers.

Used containers can be dropped off at any of the three dining halls on campus in exchange for a carabiner. The carabiner then can be traded in at a later time for a clean container.

Within the first three days of the program’s launch, 250 students signed up, nearly depleting the first stock of containers.

Erwin Bernhart, associate manager of Paresky Center and head of the eco-container program, finds this a positive indicator of the program’s success.

“I think it’s exciting, especially the initial sign-up of people,” he said. “I think [the program] will only grow, and down the road we can look at other possibilities for sustainability. It’s all about changing habits, and as with anything, it takes time to get used to. But this program will open up new options.”

The new eco-container program began as a student initiative, researched and proposed by the College’s Thursday Night Group (TNG), a grassroots environmental organization on campus.

TNG approached Dining Services and proposed an alternative based on the eco-friendly systems used at both Eckerd College and Duke University.

Dining Services collaborated with College Council to develop the program. TNG, led by Sophie Robinson ’11, was also instrumental in implementing and promoting the eco-container program.

As for the new system’s projected benefits for the College, Chris Abayasinghe, assistant director of student dining, said that in addition to saving the College money, the program “will make people more aware of their impact on sustainability at Williams and on the environment.”

Kelsey Gaetjens ’13 called the program “a good idea for [sustainability].”

“I think students’ only qualm about this [program] is that it would be inconvenient to drop the containers off, but it’s not difficult,” said Ari Benjamin ’13, who used the program during its trial run last spring. “Maybe Dining Services could add collection bins in dorms,” he suggested.

Abayasinghe believes that the elimination of waste is worth students’ carrying the plastic box to mealtimes. “It’s fairly easy to just throw away a paper box,” he said, “but as part of being a student here and sharing the Williams experience, you find that the easiest choice is not always the best.”

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