Not green enough

University Dining should build on its idea of using reusable to-go containers

Half-baked. This term best describes not only dining hall food, but also the new idea of a "reusable to-go container". A little known fact about our current disposable containers and utensils is that they are not biodegradable. Our current containers are made from corn, and according to a 2006 Smithsonian article "Corn Plastic to the Rescue", are only biodegradable when they are sent to "a large facility where compost - essentially plant scraps being digested by microbes into fertilizer - reaches 140 degrees for ten consecutive days... But in reality very few consumers have access to the sort of composting facilities that can make that happen." Kendall Singleton, Dining Service's Sustainability Coordinator, points out that the large-scale facility used by the University "currently cannot accept Dining's corn-based plastics, and so they're ending up in the landfill, which of course is designed to inhibit as much decomposition as possible." She is "in the process of reviewing this issue, and may be asking our supplier to revert back to recyclable plastic." In this regard, I support the new reusable containers; however, this plan needs to be better organized.

The biggest loophole in the program is this: what is to stop a student from washing their container and using it to take food from the dining hall after their meal? Dining Services does not trust students with the old disposable containers to not "double dip," as evidenced by the signs around the dining halls requesting students to not grab to-go containers and eat in the dining hall unless they are willing to swipe twice, or by the fact that the boxes are policed by the workers at the desk. Clearly, Dining Services believes that the honor code does not exist in the food-smuggling ring that is the dining hall, which is why I was shocked to hear that they support the reusable container idea.

Perhaps dining has thought this through and decided to lower the quality of food yet again, to deter people from having any desire to steal, or consume in general, their food. However, no matter how hard Dining Services tries to lower the quality of their food, there will always be something of value. If a student obtained a reusable to-go container, and washed it out at their volition, they could eat at the dining hall and raid the salad bar for all the fresh vegetables, which, if done properly, costs more than the swipe used to enter the dining hall.

What I would really like to see is the death of the biodegradable forks and for Dining Services to give away some of the precious commodity that is their utensils. By now, I am sure that all of the University is convinced that these utensils are not practical, and the knives are for decoration. The loss of function for sustainability would be somewhat palatable, except that it has been realized that they are not significantly better then the old system. Not to mention, the utensils hinder the reusable program - when a student grabs a "biodegradable fork," that is still a problem. The dining containers are only half the problem, and half sustainable. Therefore, I propose the dining hall give away utensils using a system of barcodes and self-service.

In order to improve the sustainable containers by the addition of utensils, I propose we add barcodes to every container, and a select amount of forks. I also do not believe that a student should have to "join the program" by paying a deposit fee, because that requires intentional action by the student, hindering the growth process of this program. A student should simply be able to go to the cashier for the day and ask for a container and whatever utensils they wish. Then student should then be able to slide down the counter and be able to "check out," much like the library, their utensils using a self-service machine. This way, lines will not be congested and more people will be able to use the service, thus making it more accessible.

In the age of environmental awareness, it is important to find programs that are not simply "better" than the original. The reusable container only fixes half the problems of the non-degrading "biodegradable corn plastics." According to Kendall Singleton's blog entry on September 16th, only "100 people are on board at this point," a number that could be greatly improved by making the program something that people could automatically be a part of without going through the inconvenience of registering and remembering their card numbers to be exchanged for boxes.

Ashley Ford is a Viewpoint writer for The Cavalier Daily.

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