COVID-19 mitigation policies have changed many of the daily operations at Lewis & Clark. One example is the implementation of single-use to-go boxes in campus dining services. This new development has raised some serious environmental concerns regarding waste. Nevertheless, it is difficult to find a simple solution.
This semester, beverages such as milk, juice and coffee are allowed to be served to students. However, in accordance with state laws, students may not bring reusable cups. On its own, this creates some waste from cups and causes frustration for students who are not allowed to fill up their own reusable water bottles from Fields Dining Hall. Additionally, many students use plastic utensils provided by the school rather than metal ones. This point is a bit more frustrating considering the fact that first-year students were given a full set of metal utensils when they first arrived on campus, not to mention reusable utensils are fairly easy to get a hold of.
However, the largest point of contention about increased waste on campus is the large amount of trash produced by to-go boxes. With hundreds of students visiting Fields Dining Hall up to three times a day, the math of how much waste is produced by the to-go boxes is hard to come to terms with. To make matters worse, the trash receptacles used to throw away the to-go boxes are only located in certain spots on campus, resulting in the overflow of trash with volumes they were not designed to hold.
It is clear that LC is aware of this problem and is attempting to combat it by adding solar-powered trash compactors around campus. These can hold five times more waste than regular trash cans, reducing the frequency of trash collection by 80%. While this is a good start, there are simply not enough of these compactors to make a significant difference. In other words, we need more. The compactors also do not decrease the amount of overall waste that is actually produced.
Another problem that has been ongoing is food portions. One morning, I had the pleasure of attending breakfast at the same time as the LC football team after a morning practice. I was surprised to have been given the same amount of eggs and French toast as someone who had just completed an intense workout.
To my understanding, Bon Appétit creates predetermined serving sizes for every meal. However, not everyone needs the same amount of food to feel full. In general, the portions are too big. This exacerbates the waste problem as copious amounts of extra food end up being thrown away because students cannot finish it all.
Using reusable utensils instead of plastic ones, reducing the frequency of getting beverages, keeping leftovers in the fridge and simply asking for smaller portions are some small steps that could reduce the amount of waste on campus. But even these come with some caveats. For example, the Get app does not allow for students to specify how much food they want and gives plastic utensils with every order. These solutions also fail to address the waste produced by to-go boxes. Storing food in the fridge as leftovers may lessen food waste, but the box will still need to be thrown away eventually.
The boxes themselves are green product certified and made from 100% recycled paper, but are only recyclable in a few areas that accept polylined food service packaging. Unfortunately Portland is not one of them. We cannot “Boycott the Bon” because people need to eat and do not have any other meal options. We cannot share food in to-go boxes because COVID-19 makes that dangerous.
Ultimately, there is not a simple, all-encompassing solution. But the upside is that to-go boxes are not a permanent part of LC. We are starting to see change made both by the college in adding trash compactors as well as individuals making more environmentally conscious decisions. Together, we can begin solving this environmental issue as a community.