A Plea for Reusable To-Go Boxes

As anyone who has seen the trash cans on the Campus Center patio on a nice day knows, to-go boxes from the Great Room are used frequently at St. Mary’s. In fact, our food services company Bon Appétit estimates that between 800 and 1000 boxes are handed out on any given day during the academic year.

Given that the current boxes are made of Styrofoam, a material that is not recyclable or biodegradable, these boxes account for a significant amount of waste. If we throw out an average of 900 boxes a day, and there are 220 days in the academic year, this suggests that we as a college throw away roughly 198,000 boxes per academic year.

With each unit costing 11 cents, these 198,000 boxes also end up costing us a total of $20,899 a year. As any college student can tell you, this is a very large amount of both money and trash.

Fortunately there is a more environmentally friendly and long term cost efficient alternative: reusable to-go boxes. A group of students from a Math for Social Justice course found that Eco Clamshells may be our best alternative.

Each unit costs $3.14, but if we were to purchase 2,000 (enough for the whole student body) for $6,280 instead of constantly purchasing more Styrofoam, we would save $14,619 in up-front costs. Although reusable to go boxes would require more water and labor for washing, it is unlikely that these costs would amount to more than the amount saved.

In recent months, the level of support for a reusable to-go box program has grown significantly. On October 19, the Student Government Association passed a resolution that supports the implementation of a reusable to-go box program in the Great Room to begin by Spring 2011.

The Student Environmental Action Coalition has collected 380 petition signatures from students and faculty supporting reusable containers and has been working with the Sustainability Committee on research for the program.

In addition, we have a food service company that has been very supportive of past green initiatives in the Great Room. Bon Appetit’s company tag line is “Food services for a sustainable future,” and they have won multiple awards for their socially and environmentally sustainable food. The company has also implemented the use of reusable to-go boxes on other college campuses.

With all of this support going for us, it is clear we must work together to come up with a system that will allow the use of reusable to-go boxes to be just as convenient as the current disposable containers. Do you have any ideas on how we can best implement a reusable to-go box program in the Great Room?

If so, please contact the Sustainability Committee (sustainability@smcm.edu) to help design and implement the best possible program.

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