Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878

Eco to-nowhere: Transition not bridge to greener pastures

Hot on the eco-friendly heels of Paws & Go’s plastic bag embargo, Wash. U. student group Net Impact aims to implement an expansion of its Eco To-Go box initiative. Currently, this buy-in system allows students to exchange green Eco To-Go tokens for a reusable Eco To-Go box when purchasing their food; for choosing a sustainable alternative to disposable to-go boxes, students receive a 10-cent discount off their meal’s cost. Net Impact recently released a survey to gauge interest in its plan to remove disposal to-go boxes from Wash. U. eateries.

While such a move would ensure widespread use of Eco To-Go boxes in the short run and might, as the group claims, possibly decrease the amount of time it takes a Dining Services worker to ask whether you want your food for here, to go or in Eco To-Go, Net Impact’s strategy needs fine-tuning and clarification. Grants have allowed for current first-year and future incoming students to enroll for free in the Eco To-Go program, but the very need for these grants after lackluster initial student enrollment suggests the Eco To-Go boxes may lack the student support to stand on their own without complete subsidy.

In the light of a full Eco To-Go to-go system, Net Impact offers no explanation as to future pricing infrastructure. It remains unclear whether students will continue to receive a monetary incentive for participating in the program. If there is no to-go alternative to Eco To-Go, it hardly seems fair to discount one sustainable option, such as Eco To-Go boxes, and not the equally sustainable option of plates. To that end, all food prices would decrease by 5 cents as there would be no greener behavior to encourage.

That decrease in cost might help compensate for the increase in price that will inevitably occur as students proceed to steal even more plates from Bear’s Den and the Servery to make up for the free disposable to-go option they once had. Realistically, the one Eco To-Go box a new student receives will not allow for multiple meals taken to-go in a day if a student wishes to save meals or leftovers for later. Students would have to buy into the Eco To-Go program after their complimentary token/box in order to account for a second meal, a reality that complicates the motive of Net Impact. As the sole provider of the Eco To-Go box program, a forced Eco To-Go to-go system stands to benefit the group fiscally: students who wished for multiple Eco To-Go tokens would have to buy into the program, and with no other to-go substitute, Dining Services would have to purchase extra Eco To-Go boxes to guarantee an ample supply of to-go boxes and guard against attrition and box destruction.

In order to avoid incurring $5-a-shot Eco To-Go buy-ins should the free Eco To-Go box be in use or if one forgot his Eco To-Go token, some students may start to “borrow” plates as a cheaper alternative, and if the recent brunch crackdown is any indication, such actions could prove incredibly costly for a student.

Obviously, Wash. U. cannot drop its token exchange system for Eco To-Go. Without those green key chains, students would have less motivation to carry the somewhat bulky reusable boxes from their dorm rooms or apartments to a return station because they could obtain a new box without turning in the first. The current Eco To-Go framework would need reevaluation before entering into a forced Eco To-Go world. With increased enrollment and use, any possible time Net Impact claims students will gain from a loss of disposable to-go options will be lost as checkout lines grow longer to accommodate the new surge in box-for-token exchanges cashiers will be responsible for.

Logistically, Net Impact’s expansion plans lose sight of pragmatism in favor of half-baked environmentalism. Last year, Wash. U. made the switch to compostable to-go boxes in order to minimize environmental impact, demonstrating an understanding of the University’s complex ecosystem. Eco To-Go should remain a to-go alternative, but it should remain that: an alternative, conferring upon students the choice and responsibility they deserve.


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  • Anonymous says:

    The writer should have done his homework before putting out this article.

    Net Impact is working on having to-go-box use recorded when you swipe your ID, so there wouldn’t be any need for the green key chains anymore.

    They also might offer more than one to-go-box at a time. So, students would not be inconvenienced or need to buy in to the program, especially because the program will be free!

    Financially, you’re not considering the money that is already spent on buying disposable, compostable containers in all of the food locations on campus. People use these disposable boxes all the time, even sometimes when they end up staying in the building. Having the school consistently buy these indefinitely is like throwing money out in comparison to a reusable option, which will save the school money in the long term.

    Another case of bad reporting coming from Stud Life. The editors should consider talking to Net Impact and issuing an apology, or at least an explanation that the arguments in this article were misinformed and the criticisms based on false premises.

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Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878