Take-out program looks outside the box

By
Contributing Writer
Tuesday, February 15, 2011

It’s Spring Weekend and no one has gone to class. The green is littered with picnicking students. But the idyllic expanse of the Main Green is also littered with something else: litter.

Black trash bins overflow with white boxes. Biodegradable cardboard stacks form leaning towers.

“It’s disgusting,” Lillian Mirviss ’12 said. Mirviss is a sustainability intern at Brown Dining Services and a member of emPOWER, the University’s environmental umbrella organization. She is currently working for Dining Services and emPOWER on a pilot program testing a reusable container take-out program.  

“The reason we decided to do it is that we are using biodegradable containers, which is great,” said Mirviss. “But we don’t have a compost program on campus. So all that just goes to the landfill. By implementing this program we hope to divert some of that waste.”

Waste is the central concern of both students and the Dining Services staff involved in the program.

 “We wish to make our dining program greener,” Claire Sidla, director of residential dining, wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.

The reusable take-out container “takes sustainability to the next level. It will give students who are looking for a meal on the run a clean and sanitary container option while reducing the number of disposables that go to the landfill,” she wrote.

For now, only the 50 listed participants may “check out” the light green containers. They return the containers to a collection bin behind the regular take-out station. The containers, which are slightly smaller than the large biodegradable boxes at the Sharpe Refectory, are washed downstairs before being made available for another use.

“A relatively small number of meal plan participants are a part of the pilot program, which has helped make it manageable,” Sidla wrote.

Jean Couto, a residential dining supervisor, spearheaded the project, according to Sidla.

Dining Services began to work on the program last summer, Mirviss said, adding that this semester marks the beginning of a small-scale version of the program “to figure out the kinks.”

The program faces two challenges — managing the supply of containers and cultivating student interest.

“We are having it start small because a lot of schools started full force, and they have lost hundreds of dollars,” Mirviss said.

“The greatest challenge in our opinion is to get students excited and on board with using the eco-container,” Sidla wrote. “The more we can educate students about why this is a move in the right direction, the more successful it will be.”

The Rhode Island School of Design — where a campus-wide to-go container program is already in place — approached these issues by operating its program on a coin system. When students return used containers, they receive a token, which they can exchange for a new container.

“Let’s join the eco-to-go movement,” states a YouTube video made by RISD students promoting the program. “And save the world, one meal at a time.”

The Dining Services planning group is also considering the coin system to replace the current system of tracking the container on paper, Mirviss said.