Keeping it washable on campus: The no to-go challenge
I often repeat the same routine at each campus eatery. I enter Bear’s Den, Holmes Lounge or the Village, order my food, wait for it to be given to me in a to-go box, grab a plastic knife, fork, cup and straw, sit down in the location, eat my food and then throw out my containers and utensils as I walk out.
The more I went through the steps of this routine, the more I realized how ridiculous it is to produce so much waste at each meal. In addition to the fact that I was almost always automatically given my food in a to-go box, as I didn’t make a point of asking for a plate, I thoughtlessly used plastic utensils, even though I knew I would be staying for the duration of my meal, and filled a plastic cup with water, forgetting that I usually had an empty water bottle with me.
After recent campaigns by organizations, such as the Student Sustainability Board, to reduce the amount of unnecessary waste produced on campus, I decided to see how hard it would actually be to use only washable containers and utensils at campus eateries.
So I wrote down some rules. For an entire week I would not be allowed to use any throw away to-go boxes/containers, plastic/cardboard cups or plastic utensils at any campus locations.
By only using a water bottle for drinks, I would also eliminate my use of straws. My mother stopped letting me drink from straws at home a few years ago, as she believed that my extreme use of them as a child led to my inability to drink from a cup without spilling all over myself, so not only would this change be good for the environment, but it would also make my mother proud and help me learn to not be a total klutz.
I encountered my first obstacle the night before my challenge commenced. What would I do at Holmes Lounge? Warm, friendly, delicious Holmes Lounge. My go-to lunch spot almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Holmes Lounge has no washable plates or utensils, and I selfishly shuddered at the thought of giving up my carvery sandwiches for a week.
Right when I began to consider abandoning my mission, I went into my closet and took out a washable plate and metal fork and knife. I had yet to use them.
I placed these items into a Bear Necessities bag that I had been too lazy to throw out (Yay for reusing! Boo for laziness) and packed the bag into my backpack.
When I went to pay at Holmes, I asked if my sandwich could be put on my plate, to which the staff responded incredibly receptively and generously. They made sure to remember which sandwich was mine so that they would not accidentally place it in a to-go box.
I cannot express enough how hardworking and kind the Bon Appetit staff on campus is, a fact that was made even more apparent to me this week. Every time I asked them to put my food on a plate or my iced tea in a bottle, staff members went out of their way to help me and make sure I got what I wanted.
Still, I did continue to face minor challenges. After eating at Holmes, I would go to the bathroom to clean and dry my plate, for which I needed multiple paper towel sheets. Though I allowed myself the use of paper towels and napkins, as I didn’t feel it practical to use a dirty handkerchief every day, having to use paper towels to clean my plate and utensils added an unexpected amount of waste.
There were a couple of times when I forewent the purchase of baked goods at Whispers, as I did not want to inconvenience the staff with my plate request, especially when they were in the midst of a rush and the person I would order the item from would be different from the staff member who would remove it from the display case for me, thus complicating the plate hand-off.
As the week comes to an end, I am left with more questions than answers. What now? Will I continue to follow every single one of my rules? Honestly, I don’t know. Probably not.
Though I admit I may not continue to bring a plate to Holmes, and I will most likely leave eateries with a to-go box in the future, this week has made me more aware of the simple but impactful opportunities I have every day to reduce my trash production.
I will now always make sure to ask for a plate at Bear’s Den or the Danforth University Center when I am staying at those locations to eat, taking only metal utensils. I actually found using a water bottle for coffee or tea to be far more convenient than getting drinks in their usual plastic cups, as I could easily stick the bottle into my backpack when moving from class to class.
These may not seem to be drastic measures, and that’s because they’re not. Even so, when many people make a few small changes, the effect can be great. And, if it’s so easy to ask for a plate or use a water bottle, why not?