Reusable To-Go Boxes Get Test Drive in Spring

This coming spring Bon Appetit plans to implement a trial reusable to-go box program, a welcome addition to college residents tired of seeing overflowing trash cans filled with Styrofoam ones.

The call for reusable to-go boxes on campus has been growing ever since their first implementation at Eckert College in 2007, according to Sustainability Coordinator Luke Mowbrey.

Prince George’s Hall Senator and member of the sustainability committee sophomore Becky White said that other colleges, such as Washington College, Frostburg, Maryland Institute of Art, Notre Dame, and John Hopkins have also implemented similar programs.

She added, “not all these schools are necessarily [ranked] ‘greener’ than us… which speaks more to the need to do it.”

The current system of disposable to-go boxes is, in contrast to the sustainability and beautification initiatives of the college, ecologically harmful and aesthetically displeasing.

Styrofoam, according to Mowbrey, is non-biodegradable and releases many toxic chemicals when it is created.

Although recycling Styrofoam is technically possible, Mowbrey said many people don’t do it because it’s difficult and cost-prohibitive.

White said that reusable to-go boxes would cut down on the significant number of these thrown away (600 boxes a day, according to her statistics), decreasing the college’s negative environmental impact along with the amount of trash present on-campus.

She added that reusable to-go boxes would also be more durable and microwave-safe. Ultimately, Debi Wright, General Manager at Bon Appetit, said that it would take about forty uses of a single reusable to-go box to “break even” environmentally, with any use after that being an “environmental plus.”

Mowbrey said that the reusable to-go boxes, if successful, could be expected to be “a wash” financially. Mowbrey also said that the cost of the initial reusable to-go boxes, which retail at around $3.75 each, will be paid for through the College’s sustainability budget.

Wright said that although reusable to-go boxes would cut down on having to buy disposable ones, other costs would arise–such as those associated with the additional chemicals and water needed to sterilize the to-go boxes when they are brought back.

Previous students in the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) as well as former sustainability fellows have campaigned for to-go boxes in years past, but according to White there is “much, much more support” from students and administration than ever before.

“SEAC has shown a lot of interest and collected a number of signatures from students,” Mowbrey said. “It was something they brought to my attention when I came in in September.”

He added that a program for reusable to-go boxes was planned last year, but that a combination of logistical details and what he termed “little kinks” derailed the plan.

White said that a major issue were technology limits on OneCard readers, readers which have since been upgraded to support an accountability system.

The current plan for the pilot program will begin early next semester, when the first 500 students to volunteer will be able to opt-in to the program.

Mowbrey said accountability for bringing back these to-go boxes would work through the OneCard system; students who had opted in to the plan would have a mark on their account designating them as part of the trial, and after taking out one reusable to-go box would be expected to bring it back to be cleaned and provided with another one.

He said that at this point there were no financial burdens to be placed on students who wanted to be part of the program or those who lost a to-go box, but that these may be implemented later depending on the results of this pilot.

Mowbrey also emphasized that the program was optional, and Styrofoam to-go boxes would still be readily available for anyone who wanted them.

Although there is expected backlash to the change, possibly similar to that upon removing trays from the Great Room last spring, most people involved with the program expect things to go well. According to White, “most schools, after doing the pilot, have been successful.”

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