Opinions, Column

New Green2Go Container Program Should Be Free for Students

Throughout all of BC’s dining halls, over 60 percent of student meals are taken to-go, using containers that probably won’t make their way back to a recycling bin. To address this concern, BC Dining is currently testing a program aimed at reducing this waste. The pilot program, Green2Go (G2G), is currently available at Stuart dining hall and will be coming to Lower and Hillside later this year. 

The program operates by allowing students to take food to-go in containers and then bring them back to be washed and used again. Students currently pay a one-time fee of $9 to join the program. It isn’t exactly a steep price, but the system should be free, and if anything, BC Dining should charge students to use single-use containers instead. Judging from experiences at other universities, the G2G program has enormous potential, but it will not be successful if there are too many barriers to join the program. If BC really wants to push students to adopt the program, it should start charging students who want to use single-use containers, while making the G2G program completely free.

The epidemic of single-use plastics and other containers is continuing to grow. Although single-use containers are recyclable, the U.N.  reports just nine percent of the world’s nine billion tons of plastic has been recycled. As a result, the bulk of these plastic containers end up in landfills and in our oceans, disrupting ecosystems. 

According to BC Dining, in the 2017-18 school year, 2.63 million disposable plates, bowls, and containers were tossed in the garbage. Plastic takes thousands of years to decompose, breaking down into smaller particles called microplastics that leak into our water. In turn, these are ingested by both humans and animals, introducing harmful chemicals into our food supply. 

Even when recycled, plastic is not easily made into new products. Instead, it has to be “downcycled” to produce an inferior product that can’t be recycled any further. Obviously, as a busy college student, it’s tempting and much easier to choose the disposable plastic option, but I think that, through BC’s new program, taking food to-go can be just as easy, without contributing to waste.

The practice of continually opting for single-use containers at the dining hall adds up to produce disastrous effects on our climate. Although BC makes an effort to keep recycling bins around campus, they are clearly not utilized to their full potential. Many students toss recyclable containers into the trash instead of taking a few seconds to separate out the food and utensils from the container to recycle it. I, too, have been guilty of taking this shortcut.

The G2G program could significantly reduce BC’s waste and signal to other universities and students all over the country that small decisions to be more “green” can be hugely impactful. This program has already been implemented by several schools, such as Dartmouth and the University of North Carolina, and it has the potential to deliver enormous benefits if it’s fully integrated into the BC culture. 

However, old habits can be hard to change. This is why BC is making a thoughtful decision by first introducing G2G to freshmen in Stuart dining hall in order for the program to gain traction. The theory goes that if freshmen adopt the habit early in the college careers, they’ll continue using the containers throughout their time at BC.

When G2G moves to all dining halls on campus, it is imperative that this initiative is properly publicized and incentivized to increase participation. Whether this is through posters, live demonstrations of how the program works, clubs, or by free items, many students will not want to go through the hassle of changing their current habits if information about the new program is not well-broadcasted. Just a thought experiment: When was the last time we all took the time to actually read all of the posters in the O’Neill staircase?

With any structural change, particularly in a university that services over 14,000 students, there are always up-front costs. In this case, this comes both from obtaining the new containers, training, and potentially hiring more kitchen staff to supervise the new system, in addition to figuring out how to properly wash and stock dining halls with the containers. 

The $9 fee to join the program still may deter some students from signing up, and it does not account for any additional late fees or charges if a container is lost. A study focusing on the same program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), concluded that 71 percent of students would sign up for the program if there were no upfront fees, but only 32 percent of students would sign up once fees were introduced. 

Julianne Stelmaszyk, manager of regional and sustainable food systems for BC Dining, noted that this initiative would save money in reducing the quantity of single-use containers purchased. Therefore, with the money that will presumably be saved, it seems only natural to make the G2G program free, at least while BC is testing the waters to see if it is ultimately successful.

This would undoubtedly push students who would otherwise be wary of accepting of the new program to opt for reusable containers, while helping to change the culture on campus in the meantime. However, if not implemented properly, this system may fail and in turn alienate many students from other environmentally-friendly solutions proposed by the University. BC is better than 2.63 million single-use plastics. The G2G program is a great step, but, in order to make a real dent in that number, the program needs to be free.

September 9, 2019