By Kaitlin Woolery
Have you noticed students carrying out the new to-go containers from Alliot? The pandemic has drastically altered our way of living, especially when it comes to handling food. Prior to the coronavirus, Alliot was known to be buffet style, but with the new COVID-19 restrictions in place, self-serve stations are out in favor of a ‘take-out’ approach. But what to do with all that packaging?
“The ideal situation in terms of sustainability is to use reusable plates, cutlery, and cups, that was simply not feasible given the COVID restrictions and our dining room set up,” says Karen Talentino, professor of biology and director of the health science program.
The take-out food served in environmentally friendly containers was the result of discussion after COVID policies became clear. This allows students to use their meal plans, while not overcrowding the reduced capacity dining hall. The students are free to eat their meals almost anywhere including the outdoor seating areas. Students can throw containers and food scraps into the bins outside of Alliot. The bins fill up quickly.
“When we heard about the take-out dining model this summer, the Sustainable Campus Team advocated that all materials be compostable to maintain our efforts of living, teaching, and stewarding environmental efforts because it is so repeatable and all of a sudden at such a large scale,” said Kristyn A. Achilich, professor of environmental studies and director of the center for the environment.
Eco-Products manufacturers of these to-go containers. “Our products can biodegrade in as little as 45-60 days when disposed of in a composing heap where microorganisms, carbon, water, oxygen, and nitrogen are present,” their website claims.
“We could have chosen different take out containers, but with the single use plastic ban also going into effect this summer, this was an unwise message and would have only caused a trash problem rather than a compost problem,” said Achilich.
There were a lot of factors to consider when making the switch to compostable to-go Eco-products at Alliot. “This was a major effort to coordinate and involve close collaboration and communication with our campus Facility team, ResLife, Print & Design team, Sodexo team, the Center, and our community partner, our waste hauler, Casella,” she said
“We contracted with Casella to manage the additional compostable containers, because our own compost facility is fine for food scraps, but not for the volume of compostable containers we are generating,” said Talentino.
It took a lot of effort to provide the environmentally friendly take-out containers that we see students carrying all over campus this Fall. “It all happened right before school started so it was a heavy lift but we are proud to bring this effort to campus at this scale,” said Achilich. “We are hopeful that the COVID restrictions will not last into next semester, but we are looking into alternatives to compostables, should that be necessary,” said Talentino.