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Campus dining offers more sustainable alternative for to-go food

In an effort to minimize on-campus waste, Auxiliary Services and the Sustainability Center have teamed up with Bon Appétit to launch an environmentally friendly alternative for holding food on the go.

Students and other members of the Mills community can purchase plastic Eco-Boxes and ceramic mugs for $10 each, to use for food and drink they would like to take with them.

A display of the eco-box and portable cups at the Tea Shop. (Heather McDaniel)
A display of the eco-box and portable cups at the Tea Shop. (Heather McDaniel)

“It’s a very simple process,” said Roselia Zendejas, Operations Director of the Tea Shop. She said students can bring their dirty Eco-Boxes into the Tea Shop or Cafe Suzie and exchange them either for a clean one or for a key chain. The key chain acts as a placeholder and can be traded in at a later time for a clean Eco-Box if one isn’t immediately needed. The freshly cleaned container can then be used again. Participants in the program can repeat this process as many times as they want.

According to Zendejas, the Eco-Boxes are all made with reusable materials, and students who choose to use the mugs can have their cups refilled with coffee for only one dollar.

“The idea is that we want to cut back and eliminate the use of to-go boxes and not waste paper,” Zendejas added. “We want to encourage people to be more sustainable.”

Though the program was just been introduced to the Mills community this fall, according to Britta Bullard, Sustainability and Recycling Coordinator, it has been in the works for a little over a year.

For the past two years Mills has participated in RecycleMania, a nationwide 10-week recycling competition among colleges and universities. This year the competition lasted from January 18 to March 28. Out of 510 participants, Mills ranked high in areas such as recycling and compost per capita rates, beating out schools such as Princeton and Stanford. But when Mills ranked 116 in the area of waste minimization, Bullard felt that improvement was needed. Bullard said that Dorothy Calimeris, Director of Auxiliary Services first caught wind of the idea for the Eco-Boxes from Eckerd College, which already had a similar system in place.

According to Bullard, the Eco-Boxes not only help to reduce the use of similar paper containers, but also help to reduce the waste of other resources that are used in production. Bullard explained that that the Eco-Boxes have a longer life and are therefore produced less frequently than their single use counterparts.

Bullard also said even the compostable to go containers currently being used in the Tea Shop and Cafe Suzie are contributing to waste when they are not properly composted. Both Bullard and Zendejas agreed that while the waste from these products are very minimal in the dining areas, other areas on campus are not doing so well.

“In order for compost to be effective, we have to have compost bins next to every landfill trashcan,” said Bullard, adding that many students throw compostable items in with regular trash on other parts of campus. “Even compostable materials like bananas take a long time to break down in a landfill.”

This fall Bon Appétit, Auxiliary Services and the Sustainability Center came together to provide all incoming students with free Eco-Boxes, as a way to introduce the Mills community to the program.

“I like them because they are convenient and safe for the environment,” said freshwoman Nkosazana Nkululeko.

Students and other members of the community who wish to participate in the program can purchase the Eco-Boxes and ceramic mugs for $10 each in the Tea Shop or Cafe Suzie.

“We’re really hoping everyone will get on board,” said Zendejas. “We have to lead by example.”