Over the course of the semester, Boston College Dining has implemented several new sustainability initiatives across campus dining halls in an attempt to encourage students to reduce food waste, including switching from plastic to compostable plant fiber containers.
The new initiatives, which took three months to prepare and coordinate with BC Dining’s distribution system and vendors, are the result of a series of waste-reduction conversations that occurred over the summer, according to Julianne Stelmaszyk, BC Dining’s manager of regional and sustainable food systems.
These initiatives are a continuation of the waste reduction efforts that began last year. Since then, BC Dining has altered its plastic straw policy, moving straws from alongside the beverage stations to underneath the cash registers in hopes of cutting down the number of straws used by students.
“And so we call it, ‘out of sight, out of mind,’” Stelmaszyk said. “And that’s actually helped us reduce plastic straw consumption by 30 percent in three months … from last March through June.”
Another initiative BC Dining has been focusing on this semester is encouraging students to choose reusable containers when eating in the dining halls. While Stelmaszyk recognizes this is not always an option in some locations, like the Rat, she said she has noticed a significant number of students still choose plastic cutlery or disposable containers when eating in Lower and McElroy, both of which offer ceramic dishes and metal cutlery.
To combat this, BC Dining has replaced the black single-use, non-recyclable plastic containers previously offered in dining halls on campus with white reusable plastic containers, which come with problems of their own. Of the 1,200 reusable bowls BC Dining purchased in September, 800 are currently missing, according to Stelmaszyk.
“We’re not sure what’s going on,” Stelmaszyk said. “We think that students might be taking them to their apartments. Perhaps some are accidentally getting thrown out. But it’s tough to keep making that decision to purchase reusable flatware when it just leaves the dining hall, because it doesn’t make sense from a financial perspective.”
Even with the challenges posed by increasing the amount of reusable flatware available in dining halls, Stelmaszyk said the University is still striving to achieve zero waste production within BC dining halls. In order to reach this goal, BC Dining will continue to try to phase out single-use plastic containers and instead look to provide plant fiber-based compostable containers as often as possible, Stelmaszyk said. BC Dining is additionally looking to reduce its single-use waste produced at catered events.
“We don’t have any commitments with that yet,” Stelmaszyk said. “But for instance, we’re revisiting some of the items that are [in] high use, like the plastic plates, for instance. Those are non-recyclable, and so we’re trying to see if there’s an alternative that we can use that might be compostable or lower impact.”
Going forward, Stelmaszky said that BC Dining will aim to encourage students to reuse whenever possible. She cited BC’s reusable mug discount program, in which students can fill any size reusable beverage container with coffee, tea, or soda for the price of a small, as an easy choice students can make to reduce their waste footprint on a daily basis.
“I would encourage students to be more mindful of their waste footprint,” Stelmaszyk said. “And to think about their role and helping us to do that. We want to encourage students to try to choose reusable and to let us know that they care. The more that we know that they care—it helps us to stay motivated and keeps [us] pushing for these initiatives.”
Featured Image by Madison Sarka/Heights Staff