We waste more than we realize.
Last February, I and seven other members of the Sloppy Joe Improv team crammed into my mom’s beat up minivan and headed for St. Louis. We spent seven and a half hours on the road before we finally arrived at Washington University — home of the improv festival known as “Pandemonium.”
Not only did I notice that all the buildings on campus resemble Hogwarts, that the grass was ridiculously green and there was an official “Orchid Room” that had a place for the elegant plants on every table, but the cafeteria gave students the option of using — wait for it — recyclable styrofoam to-go containers.
Now, I know it may seem silly that out of the list of “wow” factors that Washington University seems to have, I was most astounded by their eco-friendly to-go containers for students, but I must say — I was impressed.
After I savored the last bite of my tasty barbecue black bean burger with crispy truffle fries, I confidently tossed my green styrofoam container into the recycle bin — and felt dang good about it.
On the drive home, my mind couldn’t help but wander toward the idea of our little Newman cafeteria, Mabee Dining Center, replacing its many white foam containers with a more “environmentally friendly” choice. So, I figured I’d do a little research of my own.
Each week, Mabee orders 300 to-go boxes to be distributed — all of which are thrown straight into the garbage after being used. College students attend school 35 out of the 52 weeks in a year, meaning that the Newman community, on its own, throws away at least 10,500 styrofoam to-go boxes in one academic year.
Add to the mix that all on-campus students will be required to use the 19-meal-plan starting next year, and I think it’s safe to predict that the amount of to-go boxes being thrown away on the daily is going to increase dramatically in the future.
Students are not allowed to bring alternative containers of their own to the cafeteria due to the concern of cross contamination — which is understandable. But at the very least, shouldn’t we widen our options as far as the amount of our individual trash produced each day goes?
Chef Bob Matej, the head chef of Mabee Dining Center, said that recyclable containers cost “about 20 times as much” as the regular white styrofoam boxes. Newman looked into the possibility of eco-friendly to-go boxes as an option a few years ago, but the price was the main hindrance, he said.
Although students are only charged for the purchase of their meals and not the utensils and containers they take them to-go in, Chef Bob said that “if students are willing to pay the extra cost of recyclable containers, that’s one thing, but the extra money has to come from somewhere.”
Sophomore Keelah Warden, who volunteers as a member of Recycling Club on campus, recently reached out to President of Newman Gardening Club Samantha Rader in the hopes of working towards a campus that offers recyclable containers to students. After a conversation between the two, Rader determined that we should “be mindful of the impact we have on the environment.”
“Everyone is going to be on the 19-meal-plan for the 2018 fall semester, and the cafeteria is supposed to be able to better serve us,” Rader said. “Getting more eco-friendly containers will benefit all of the students.”
Conversations, student interests and club efforts may not be enough to implement the option of “green” to-go boxes in the cafeteria anytime soon. But maybe the only reason we are content with piling up to-go boxes in the first place is because up to this point, this has been our only option. Maybe it is time to attempt an expansion of the options available and be more mindful in our daily disposals. Go eco!
This story first appeared in the March 1, 2018 issue of The Vantage.