Selecting sustainability

Dining Services must better promote reusable to-go boxes to students

This academic year, Dining Services introduced reusable to-go containers at dining halls and other select locations on Grounds. The project is one of the first initiated since Kendall Singleton was hired as Sustainability Coordinator, and is part of an effort to both raise awareness about and reduce the University's environmental impact.

The program is well underway, though that might not be readily apparent to students using the dining facilities. At dining hall entrances, there are pamphlets about the University's sustainable dining efforts, along with a small sign suggesting that students should ask about reusable boxes. Otherwise, there are no obvious signs of change. The traditional disposable containers are still offered - and prominently displayed, for that matter. Students often take the old boxes without giving a second thought to the new, greener options. They are not told of an alternative by Dining staff.\nProviding reusable containers is a thoughtful undertaking; it could effect positive change in University dining practices over the long-run. Environmental impact and sustainability are issues that warrant greater attention. In order to be successful, however, the initiative must overcome several logistical barriers that threaten to undermine its significance. Left unaccounted for, these hurdles could make sustainable dining's most promising endeavor irrelevant.

The most important of these obstacles is simply poor advertising to students. In a broad sense, Dining Services has publicized the reusable containers; The Cavalier Daily has run articles on both Singleton's new position and this program in particular. Singleton even maintains a blog titled "Sustainable Dining at UVA." It's not as if the project is a secret. Nevertheless, Dining Services has not promoted the new boxes in the locations where it matters most: dining hall entrances. The status quo prevails, so unless students are given due notice of the new option at the time they swipe in, they are unlikely to take advantage of it.

At a bare minimum, the reusable boxes should be talked up to students. Naturally, the need to keep lines moving limits the ability of dining hall staff to inform students of the new project, particularly during peak meal hours. Other options are available, however. Students should be informed about the reusable option when they ask for to-go containers, at least while the program is in its early stages. Another possibility is to have someone promote the program to students while they wait in line. During less busy hours, it seems reasonable to have Dining staff explain to students who request to-go boxes how the process for using the new containers works. Even something as simple as the placement of the old disposable boxes could affect how people choose.

As an editorial argued last month, issues like sustainability are often promoted to symbolic status to deflect criticism from an organization. Dining Services' commitment to overcoming the aforementioned logistical barriers will demonstrate how serious it is about enacting real change.

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