“Single-use is out. ReusePass is in,” reads the signs posted in the entrance of the Verney-Wooley Dining Hall, referring to the electric green reusable takeout boxes newly available at the larger dining halls on campus. Whether you’ve seen people carrying them around or you already have a few dirty ones stacked in your room, the new takeout containers have crept into our lives on campus. But while they are a step toward a greener Brown, we cannot stop at reusable takeout containers to stem the amount of waste on campus.
Now mandatory for any to-go meal, the containers are made of 50% recycled plastic and can be checked out at V-Dub or the Sharpe Refectory through the ReusePass app. As a replacement for the previous single-use compostable containers, they represent an attempt by Brown to reduce waste. But while they are a step in the right direction and may encourage waste-conscious habits on campus, Brown Dining must go beyond the new containers to fully meet its Sustainability Goals.
First, people who take food to go still have to use plastic utensils, adding to the more than 100 million used every day in the United States. Second, the remaining four dining halls on campus still utilize disposable containers, many of which still contain plastic components. At Andrews, for example, bowl lids are still plastic, and plastic utensils are wrapped in individual plastic bags. In the Ivy Room, all of the bowls are made of plastic.
The issue with plastic is not only waste management — the entire production process is highly problematic. Plastics are derived from petrochemicals, which represent 12% of oil demand globally. Given the magnitude of the issue, drastically reducing plastic on campus should be a key priority for Brown. Part of the University's 2021 Sustainability Plan is the goal to quantify Brown’s indirect or “upstream” emissions by 2023, which are the ones associated with the materials purchased by the University (administrators have yet to announce whether they accomplished this goal). While it is key to measure the emissions of certain irreplaceable products, it can also be effective to simply eliminate the ones that can be replaced, like single-use plastics.
My proposal is that Brown embarks on a more holistic approach to targeting waste. A short-term solution is to guarantee that the least possible amount of disposables are made of plastic by replacing them with compostable materials. The University also has to ensure that our composting partners, ReMix Organics and Recycleworks, are able to take in increasingly large influxes of waste, and that the students are aware of where to access composting bins. Expanding campus involvement in sustainability initiatives and making the results of our efforts readily available to the campus community — like the water bottle refill stations that display plastic bottles saved — can also encourage students to be conscious of their waste habits. A long-term solution could be investing in infrastructure that allows the University to abandon single-use containers to expand the ReusePass program and enable all dining halls to utilize traditional ceramic plates and offer biodegradable takeout boxes.
The green boxes are certainly an important green step for a less wasteful college campus, but alone they are not enough. A sustainability plan that holistically tackles excess waste and keeps students engaged in the process will allow our campus to most effectively transition to a greener future.
Maria Claudia Gurjão Bonaparte ’26 can be reached at email@example.com. Please send responses to this opinion to firstname.lastname@example.org and other op-eds to email@example.com.