Freshmen leaving Hecht-Stanford Dining Hall with disposable to-go containers enjoy eating their meals outdoors, making conversation with friends outside of Stanford Residential College, and looking out at the intramural fields. These students finish eating and stack their boxes artfully, like professional Jenga players.
But the boxes piled atop the trash bins eventually form a replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. When a dozen to-go containers become a dozen plus one, the spillover transforms into litter all over the ground.
Trash bins overflowing with disposable take-out boxes, which are compostable, can be seen outside of the Mahoney-Pearson and Hecht-Stanford dining halls on a daily basis. When compostable items became litter, freshman Athena Jones knew there was a problem.
Jones, the education outreach co-chair for the Energy & Conservation Organization (ECO) Agency, is now working with the members of Student Government’s green programming board to rectify this waste issue by promoting use of reusable rather than disposable boxes.
“They’re biodegradable if you do compost properly, but otherwise they’re going to a traditional landfill when they’re placed in these garbage cans …” Jones said. “They actually have the same life in the landfill that a Styrofoam box would have, and they produce more carbon dioxide to make. It’s a much more intensive process to make these boxes and therefore they have more of a carbon footprint on the environment than Styrofoam.”
The To-Go program implemented at the beginning of the fall semester gives students the option of eating meals outside of the dining halls. But not many realize that there are two types of take-out boxes: the disposable white boxes that are made of compostable material and the reusable green boxes that are made from plastic.
Freshman Smitha Vasan, who takes out about half of her meals from the dining hall each week, has been using the disposable to-go boxes because she did not know about the reusable green containers.
“I saw a girl with one the other day, but I thought she had just bought it and decided to use it,” she said.
Jones started using the reusable boxes last semester after noticing a sign at the entrance of the dining hall. It had a small picture of the green box and said “Lease Me” at the top, with more information about the program on display. But Jones understands how this would not be an effective promotional strategy for all students.
“It’s not something that you can really have a sign up for and then expect people to read it when they’re hungry. That might’ve been where the marketing failed,” she said. “But honestly it’s a good program. It’s awesome for not losing money for the dining hall.”
To increase awareness of the eco-friendly program, the ECO Agency’s Green Team has been tabling outside of Hecht-Stanford Dining Hall over the past week to tell people about the reusable containers.
Freshman Camlyn Morrison learned about the green boxes through this promotion.
“This is the first time that I realized it was offered,” she said. “They had a booth set up that told me that, if I used it, I could return it, and it didn’t sound like a hard thing to do. And personally, I’m an advocate of recycling and less consumption.”
Jones said that students who are not concerned about the environmental impact of waste should at least be concerned about the economic impact of a program that is not sustainable. Using the green boxes is eco-friendly and also shows other students that it is important to be green, according to Jones.
“It’s definitely, completely in the students’ hands at this point,” she said. “There’s no other reason behind the fact that we don’t use them other than the students.”
Multiple choices for eco-initiative
Eco-friendly reusable boxes are available through a leasing program. For a deposit of $4, taken from a student’s dining dollars and refunded at the end of the year, students can receive a reusable green box to take food out of the dining hall.
When they return for another meal, they can exchange the used reusable box for either a clean reusable box or a “Green Card.” The “Green Card” proves that the student is a participant in the leasing program and can be exchanged at any time for another reusable box.
If the student is holding a “Green Card,” he or she cannot take out a box. A student cannot hold the card and a reusable box at the same time. If a student does not want to take out a meal, he or she can keep the card and must dine in-house. Otherwise, he or she can exchange the card for another box upon entering the dining hall.
“It seems like a full-proof answer to the problem,” said freshman Athena Jones, the education outreach co-chair for the Energy & Conservation Organization (ECO) Agency.
Armando Cuervo, the manager of Auxiliary and Dining Services, recommends opting for the reusable boxes because they are the best option for the environment.
“By using the eco-friendly reusable containers, students will still be able to participate in the take-out dining program while reducing the campus dining services’ carbon footprint,” he said.
About 7,000 disposable boxes are used per week in the Hecht-Stanford and Mahoney-Pearson dining halls, according to Cuervo. Approximately only 10 of the more than 4,000 current meal plan participants are “Green Card” holders as of Monday, he said.